Lay Down Your Weary Tune : Palace of Westminster (Westminster)

The Renaissance held music in high regard. It played a prominent part in religious, court and civic life. The interchange of ideas in Europe through ever closer economic and political contact brought about the creation of new musical genres, the development of instruments, and the advancement of specialist printing. 

By about 1500, Franco-Flemish composers dominated the domain. Most prominent among them was Josquin des Prez who, like fellow artists at the time, travelled widely between nations. The intensity of international encounters led to stylistic developments that have been appreciated as being truly European. 

By the beginning of the sixteenth century Antwerp had developed into a hub of musical activity. The most important initiatives were undertaken by the church. Antwerp Cathedral employed twelve choristers who lived in a private house where they received instruction from a singing master. At the beginning of the century this office was held by Jacob Obrecht who was famous for his polyphonic compositions. The composer’s prolific output consists of some twenty-six masses, thirty-two motets, and thirty secular pieces, not all texted. Antwerp also employed a company of fiddlers for both secular and ecclesiastical performances. 

Composers from all over Europe chose Antwerp as their home, amongst them a number of English musicians. Peter Philips had moved to the Continent as a Catholic refugee. In 1593, he travelled from the Southern Netherlands to Amsterdam to see and heare an excellent man of his faculties’. The man he referred to was organist and composer JanPietersz Sweelinck, known as the ‘Orpheus of Amsterdam’. The latter had converted to Calvinism in 1578, but he was not unsympathetic to his old faith. Philips was one of many Catholic musicians who had left England. A prolific composer of Latin sacred choral music, he was made organist to the Chapel of Archduke Albrecht in Antwerp. 

Another refugee was Hereford-born John Bull. Appointed chief musician to Prince Henry in 1611, he furtively disappeared to Flanders after the death of his patron in November 1612. Bull later explained his flight because of the accusation of Catholic sympathies made against him. He moved to Brussels where he was briefly employed as one of the organists in the Chapel of Archduke Albrecht VII, sovereign of the Habsburg Netherlands. From September 1615, he held the post of organist of Antwerp Cathedral. In December 1617 he acted as city organist at ‘s Hertogenbosch. Bull’s later reputation rests mainly on his keyboard music. The composition of God Save the Queen has been attributed to him. 

Antwerp acquired a reputation for its printing skills. Originally, all music was notated by hand. Manuscripts were costly and owned exclusively by religious orders, courts, or wealthy households. That all changed in 1501 when Venetian printer Ottaviano Petrucci published Harmonice musices odhecaton, the first significant anthology of (100) polyphonic secular songs. The availability of notation in print boosted the development of instrumental music for both soloists and ensembles, and engendered the creation of new genres. 

In Flanders, Tielman Susato was the first printer to gain esteem for producing music books. Nothing is known about the date or place of his birth – he may have been Dutch or German. Details about his activities begin in 1529 when he was working as a calligrapher for Antwerp Cathedral. He also played the trumpet and was listed as a ‘town player’ in the city. In 1541, he created the first music printing company in the Low Countries which he combined with selling musical instruments from his home. During his prolific publishing career he was responsible for twenty-five books of chansons, three books of masses, and nineteen books of motets. 

The indefatigable Christopher Plantin was also active in printing music and produced some of the finest choir-books of his day. From the 1570s onwards, the Bellerus and Phalesius families were leading printing houses within the domain. The whole contemporary repertoire was made available by Antwerp presses: vernacular song books and psalms as well as polyphonic secular and religious music. Composers from all over Europe had their work printed in this, the most musical of all cities at the time.

Flourishing musical life in Antwerp and Brussels did not go unnoticed at the English court. In fact, a number of outstanding Flemish musicians were invited to cross the Channel. Henry VIII had received a thorough musical education and was a dedicated patron of the arts. He was accomplished at the lute, organ, and virginals and, apparently, could sing as well. Henry recruited the best musicians to join his court. There are a number of Flemish musicians amongst the many Europeans that were attracted to join the music scene in and around London. 

Dyricke Gérarde [Derrick Gerarde] arrived in England in 1544. Little is known of his life, but almost his entire musical output is contained in manuscript in the British Library. These manuscripts constitute one of the largest collections of polyphony by a single composer to have survived from the Elizabethan era. His achievement however was overshadowed by the reputation of a Flemish composer who had arrived in London some two decades previously. 

Lutenist Philip van Wilder was first recorded as a resident in London in 1522. By 1529 he was a member of the Privy Chamber, the select group of musicians who played to the king in private. During the second quarter of the sixteenth century Van Wilder oversaw secular music-making at the court, a position that brought him close to Henry VIII. He taught playing the lute to Princess (later Queen) Mary and subsequently to Prince Edward (later Edward VI). 

At the time of Henry VIII’s death in 1547 Van Wilder was Keeper of the Instruments and effectively head of the instrumental musical establishment at Westminster, a post later known as Master of the King’s Music. The upkeep of the Royal instruments at Westminster was a heavy duty. The scope of that task becomes clear from the inventory of Henry’s possessions at his death, listing thirteen organs, nineteen other keyboard instruments (virginals and clavichords), and several hundred smaller wind and string instruments including viols, lutes, and recorders. 

Van Wilder continued to enjoy Royal favour during the reign of Edward VI. He was granted a coat of arms and crest and, in 1551, authorised to recruit boy singers for the Chapel Royal from anywhere in England. Three years after his death in February 1554 an anonymous tribute was paid to the musician and printed by Richard Tottel in his collection of Songes and Sonettes (1557), commonly known as ‘Tottel’s Miscellany’, containing the following line:

Laye downe your lutes and let your gitterns rest.

Phillips is dead whose like you can not finde,

Of musicke much exceeding all the rest.

Renaissance court and civic life teaches our age the salutary lesson that a nationalist message is one of isolationism. The appeal to nativist emotions conceals the yearning for an ideal world that never was. The cultural strength of a country manifests itself in the openness of its borders, in the assimilation of alien concepts, in the embracing of external influences. It takes a cosmopolitan mind to be a veritable patriot.

Canaries and Other Migrants

Birds represent crucial aspects of Christian teaching. The dove signifies the Holy Spirit as well as marking peace and purity; the eagle, like the phoenix, is a symbol of the Resurrection; the pelican stands for the passion of Jesus and the Eucharist; the peacock symbolises immortality; the lark refers to humility; the blackbird represents sin and temptation. One can go on. The robin, owl, partridge, swallow, raven, stork, goose, goldfinch, woodpecker, even the sparrow, are invested with meaning – but not the canary. And yet, the songbird is unique. It is is our only feathered friend that participated in the Reformation.

In origin, the canary was a Catholic bird. When Spanish sailors first reached the Canary Islands in the fifteenth century, they were charmed by its song. They caught the creatures and shipped them home. Having conquered and claimed the Islands in 1500, the Spanish trade in canaries boomed. Soon they were being bred on the mainland and sold to Italian and Swiss admirers, with monasteries holding a monopoly on the business. The monks only sold male birds and there was no canary-breeding beyond the cloister walls. Italian bird traders eventually broke that possessorship by getting their hands on female birds and beginning the process of selective breeding (with a wider colour range). The birds spread outwards from Italy on trading routes into Europe. The canary was warmly received and coolly caged in France and Flanders – and became associated with the history of Protestant migration from these regions.

In 1564, Queen Elizabeth had allowed a number of Flemish families to settle in Norwich. The process began when local authorities approached Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, for assistance in establishing an alien community to arrest the decay of the town precipitated by the decline of its worsted manufacture. The arrival of ‘strangers’ marked the city’s revival. It set a precedent. Upon reports in 1567 that the Duke of Alva was heading towards the Southern Netherlands with a large army, vast numbers of people fled from town and country. This was the most serious uprooting that early modern Europe had experienced. By the early 1570s some 10,000 refugees were estimated to have moved across the Channel. This, the first major influx of refugees during the reign of Eliabeth coincided with a period of social and economic instability in England. Protestant immigrants from the Low Countries were welcomed because of their religion and economic utility, yet at the same time an increasing number of aliens in the country was feared as a possible ‘fifth column’ in the struggle with the Catholic Church. From the beginning asylum has been accompanied by varying degrees of xenophobia and resentment.

Norwich housed the largest provincial immigrant community of the late sixteenth century. The newcomers grew flowers and vegetables unknown before in England; Jasper Andries and Jacob Janson, refugees from Antwerp, started a business making tiles and pottery; Anthony Solen introduced the craft of printing in 1570 for which he was presented with the freedom of the city (the Solen Press is still active in Norwich). Refugees did not just bring their individual skills, but they also introduced new pastimes and hobbies. In Flanders, canary-breeding had become a passion which was exported to Norwich (the ‘Norwich canary’ became a popular breed). In 1902, Norwich City football club was formed. Its players were soon nicknamed ‘the canaries’ with matching club match and team colours of yellow shirts, green shorts, and yellow socks.

During the reign of Elisabeth I, Flemish and Frenchimmigrants had already been involved in establishing the English silk industry. With the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 large numbers of skilled Huguenot weavers crossed the Channel, most of them settling in the hamlets of Spitalfields and Bethnal Green. They set up their looms there and manufactured large quantities of lustrings, velvets, brocades, satins, and silks that could previously only be procured from Lyons and Tours. Powerful mercers and master weavers inhabited grand premises in the Old Artillery Ground, Spitalfields, controlling the journeymen weavers who worked from more modest homes in neighbouring streets. They instructed local Londoners to produce these goods themselves and many pupils soon equaled or rivaled their teachers. For generations to come, Spitalfields would be associated with silk.

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Since 1681 Huguenot refugees were allowed to obtain a patent of denisation, which brought with it the right to own property. Naturalisation guaranteed a range of additional rights, but was only possible by a private Act of Parliament. Few were able to choose that option because of forbidding costs. In March 1709 the Whig government passed the Foreign Protestants Naturalisation Act, stating that any alien who swore allegiance to Church and government would be naturalised and enjoy all the rights held by English-born citizens (for the cost of a shilling). Opposition to the Act was strong. The canto Canary-birds Naturaliz’d in Utopia was published in 1709 by the Booksellers of London and Westminster with the intention of manipulating public opinion against the government. The poem’s title refers to the canaries that Huguenot silk weavers kept in cages besides their looms to entertain them while they were at work. Because of continuous protest, the Act was largely repealed by the Tories in 1711. To this day, Tories stoke the fear of foreigners. Ideally, they want to create an environment so hostile that even migratory birds, unless they have received permission from the Home Office, would refrain from shitting on British soil.

[Canary called Boris]

Fag End Patriotism – Commercial Road (Whitechapel)

Linguist Luis de Torres accompanied Columbus on his first voyage to America as an interpreter. A Jew at the time of the Inquisition, he was forced to convert to Catholicism before setting sail in August 1492. The voyage coincided with the expulsion of all Jews from Spain. Legend has it that he settled in Cuba, learned the use of tobacco, and brought the weed to Europe. Since then, Jews have been associated with the tobacco trade.

The early market was a virtual Spanish monopoly. That changed in 1612 when colonist John Rolfe in Virginia successfully planted some seeds of Nicotiana tabacum which he had obtained from Trinidad. The Anglo-American tobacco industry was born, but planting and cultivation proved to be labour intensive activities and the settlers required more manpower. Jamestown’s trading problems were solved when a Dutch trading ship dropped anchor in the estuary of Chesapeake Bay in 1619. The colonists were offered twenty ‘negars’ (the term used by Rolfe for African slaves) who were set to work in the tobacco fields. Slavery became essential to the colony’s tobacco-based economy. European cravings for a good smoke created the slave trade.

The ambivalent attitude towards the new social phenomenon of smoking is summarised by the actions of James I. He attacked the habit as a ‘barbarous custom’ in his Counterblaste to Tobacco (1604), but was the first to put taxes on a weed he despised. Mixed feelings were expressed by Robert Burton in The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621). He enthusiastically praised the medicinal qualities of the weed: ‘Tobacco, divine, rare, super-excellent tobacco … a sovereign remedy to all diseases’; but in the same paragraph he expresses disgust with the common ‘plague’ of smoking for pleasure: ‘hellish devilish and damnd tobacco, the ruine and overthrow of body and soule’. Panacea or pest – this contrasting view was manifest in all nations where the tobacco craze took hold.

Whilst tobacco was widely consumed and praised for its curative powers across Europe, it was banned in Russia under strict legislation imposed by the Romanov’s. Although the ban did not exclude tobacco entirely from the country – foreigners (Dutch and English merchants in particular) imported it for their own use and rampant smuggling of American tobacco was sponsored by the English authorities – it did restrict the product’s circulation. Those who transgressed the law were punished with beatings, the slitting of nostrils, or threats of death. Peter the Great reversed the ban in 1698, allowing the import of Virginia tobacco from England, thus creating a lucrative Royal monopoly at the same time. Smoking was legalised by the beginning of the eighteenth century. Opposition from religious and medical critics remained strong. The use of tobacco was condemned as sinful, as a cause of impotence, or as an impetus to criminal behaviour (murder according to Leo Tolstoy in his 1890 essay ‘Why Do People Stupefy Themselves?’).

The Russian ban on tobacco opened up a niche for Jewish entrepreneurs who were exluded from most other domains of commercial enterprise. They stepped in to supply the underground demand for tobacco, exploring new territories for the plant’s cultivation, and developing their own variations. They benefitted from the fact that smoking in Jewish law was treated with tolerance (but not without ambiguity). Many rabbis hailed tobacco’s benefits to health, as it was a means of aiding blood circulation, helping digestion, and being a curative for many afflictions. Some questioned whether a blessing ought to be recited upon smoking, since the pleasure derived from it resembled that of eating or drinking. Others opposed the habit.

In the course of the nineteenth century, Russians and Ukrainians changed from the use of snuff or cigars to the inhalation of cigarette smoke. Compared to other European nations, they consumed tobacco of high nicotine content. Russia became a major tobacco producer and Jews were involved in its production, distribution, and consumption. Elderly Jewish women used snuff; younger women joined the men smoking cigarettes. So prevalent was the habit that efforts were made to prohibit smoking and snuffing in places of worship. In 1861, merchant Leyba Shereshevsky founded a tobacco factory in Grodno, Belarus. It became one of the biggest enterprises in the Russian Empire and a major artery in the city’s industrial production. Modern, mechanised, and efficient, the company was in Jewish hands and employed a pre-dominantly Jewish work force. Russia became (and remains) a heavy smoker.

Once the pogroms were set into murderous motion, production was taken out of Jewish hand (the ransacking of tobacco stores was a frequently reported occurrence in the explosion of anti-semitic violence). Some of those connected with the industry escaped to London where they build new cigarette empires. Julius Wix, Abraham Melinsky, Jacob Millhoff, and Major Drapkin, all arrived in the capital during the 1880s and established themselves in the Commercial Road area. These entrepreneurs ran their firms in close proximity to each other and at times in partnership, producing exotic oriental brands such as Kensitas, De Reszke, Mahalla, Pera, Mek-Bul, Yenidje, and others. They also introduced various legendary tobacco card series (originally used in America since the mid-1870s as ‘stiffeners’ to firm up the package) which were widely collected by cartophiles and are still on offer as popular items on eBay. With increasing commercial success the factory owners settled away from Whitechapel in the (then) leafy suburbs of West Hampstead, Kilburn, or Cricklewood.

The most successful of Jewish refugee cigarette manufacturers was Louis Rothman who was born in Kiev in 1869, then a part of the Russian Empire. As a youngster, he gained experience of the trade whilst apprenticed to his uncle who was in control of the largest cigarette manufacturer in South Russia. He moved to London in 1887 where he earned a living as a cigarette maker in Whitechapel and then used his savings to set up his own business, selling hand-rolled cigarettes from a small kiosk in Fleet Street (reputed to have been the smallest shop in the City of London). Around the same time he married Jane Weiner, who was also a Russian immigrant. Rothman became a naturalised British subject in 1896. From 1900 he relocated to 5a Pall Mall. His leading brand became Pall Mall cigarettes, containing a blend of South Carolina tobacco and Virginia leaf. In 1913, he merged interest with the company controlled by Marcus Weinberg, a Jewish immigrant from Poland, creating the Yenidje Tobacco Company. The partners clashed and in 1917 Rothman bought out full control of the venture. Sydney Rothman entered into partnership with his father from the early 1920s and helped to push the firm’s success to new levels. In 1922, they started to sell cigarettes by mail order through the Rothman’s Direct-to-Smoker service. Rothman & Co became a public company in 1929 and was the largest mail-order cigarette manufacturer in Britain by 1932. The business was acquired by British American Tobacco in 1999 and to this day Rothmans remains one of its leading brands. Ironically, Louis Rothman died of lung cancer in 1926 at his home at no. 225 Walm Lane, Cricklewood.

Under the Bolsheviks, the crusade against the weed was renewed. Lenin’s first real campaign was an attempt to introduce anti-tobacco legislation. The Commissar of Public Health, Nikolai Alexandrovich Semashko, established an ambitious ‘kick the habit’ program that may have failed at the time, but was a precursor – both in content and presentation – to later battles in the war on smoking. For the time being, the march of the smoker could not be halted. New to the First World War was the fact that governments classified the industry as essential to the war effort and authorised the inclusion of tobacco and rolling papers in the troops’s rations. The state acted as supplier. Members of the public were encouraged to help out. Supplying a soldier with ciggies (although known as ‘coffin nails’) was promoted as an act of patriotism. There were no smoke-free zone in the lines of battle. Enveloped in fumes, all life in the trenches was extinguished. Dead bodies and fag ends – just that. The Second World War further boosted business. Over one billion Rothmans cigarettes were supplied to the British armed forces during the conflict. After two world wars, the tobacco industry emerged as the sole victor.

Losing One’s Head: Prince’s Square (Wapping)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydriotaphia,_Urn_Burial

In 1658, physician and author Thomas Browne published his reflections on death and burial in Hydriotaphia: Urne-Buriall which made him a pioneer in the British history of cremation. Every word in this splendid discourse smells of ashes. Anxieties about the desecration of his own final resting place put him in the forefront of a fight against body snatching. In a striking passage he wrote: ‘To be gnaw’d out of our graves, to have our sculs made drinking-bowls, and our bones turned into Pipes, to delight and sport our Enemies, are Tragicall abominations, escaped in burning Burials’. 

His foresight was uncanny. Browne died in 1682 and was buried at St Peter Mancroft Church, Norfolk. In 1840 his coffin was disturbed while a vault was being dug next to his plot. Sensing an opportunity, the sexton George Potter absconded with the skull and sold it to Edward Lubbock, a surgeon. The latter left Browne’s head to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital Museum, which put it on display. A photograph of the skull resting on two volumes of Religio medici appeared as the frontispiece to the 1904 edition of The Works of Sir Thomas Browne. It was not until 1922 that the missing head was returned for reburial. Browne is the patron saint of stolen skulls. He speaks for the collective indignity of all those corpses whose heads have been dragged around by curators, collectors, souvenir hunters, anatomists, phrenologists, and craniologists. 

Robbing graves in order to facilitate the detailed study of bones and cadavers has been a long tradition in medicine and art. Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci were known for stealing bodies from morgues in order to research human anatomy. The dissection of corpses did not become a standard practice in medical education until the mid-sixteenth century. Finding suitable corpses was one a major problem. Bodies cut up tended to be those of criminals or heretics and were predominantly male. The occasional dissection of a woman attracted large numbers of spectators lured by the prospect of the exposure of female organs. A public dissection in those early days was both spectacle and instruction, being attended by professionals, artists, and the curious alike. Within medical circles, the cutting up of a body was regarded as a celebration of scientific progress. 

Anatomy and dissection became integral parts of medical study during the early eighteenth century. The demand for corpses increased, but the supply was limited. The ‘Murder Act’ of 1752 allowed for the public dissection of killers following their execution. The underlying idea was that the process would serve science and overwhelm the crowd with a graphic set of images that restored the deterrent effect of punishment. But even criminal bodies were hard to obtain as families and friends battled with the authorities for the right of burial. As a consequence of cadaver shortage, a clandestine trade emerged. Anatomists paid resurrectionists (body snatchers) to dig up recently interred bodies. It was a seasonal occupation as the coldness of winter slowed down putrefaction. Until the passing of the Anatomy Act of 1832 grave robbers earned a good living. The act allowed for unclaimed bodies to be turned over to the medical profession, effectively substituting the poor for the executed.

For the anatomist the freshness of a corpse was an essential condition – any corpse. Phrenologists were more selective. The first half of the nineteenth century was the age of gruesome skull-theft. Franz-Joseph Gall was the godfather of phrenology. He based his research on the assumption that mental faculties are located in ‘organs’ or ‘bumps’ on the surface of the brain. Each bump corresponds to a brain chart and the cranial bone adapts to accommodate the different sizes of these particular areas. In his topographic organisation of the brain, Gall identified twenty-seven organs (his pupil and protégé Johann Spurzheim added another ten to the list) which affect the contour of the skull. Phrenology, therefore, is the study of skull structure to determine a person’s character and mental capacity. Scientific grave robbers were particularly interested in collecting the skulls of creative individuals. As both Gall and Spurzheim were working at the University of Vienna, is not surprising that the disinterred heads of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, or Schubert, received particular attention from phrenologists in search of the ‘music bump’, the node on the brain that (supposedly) corresponds to musical genius. 

Thomas Browne was still alive in 1666 when the catastrophic Fire of London broke out. The rebuilding of the city required a vast number of workers and an endless supply of materials. Scandinavian timber ships had been coming to London for centuries, bringing their cargoes right up to the inner London docks. The huge demand for timber in the aftermath of the Great Fire substantially increased the trade and brought countless skilled workers to London. Timber merchants established their discharging wharves at Wapping, as their ships were too large to pass under Tower Bridge. Nordic immigrants settled around the Thames in East London and built their own shops and churches. Caius Gabriel Cibber designed the Danish Church in Wellclose Square. With local Norwegians involved in its foundation and finance, the church was consecrated in 1696. Three decades later, the Swedish Lutheran Church was built in nearby Prince’s Square, Wapping, under the episcopal oversight of Jesper Swedberg, Bishop of Skara. As the Swedish community (including Swedish-speaking Finns) around Wapping expanded, the church played a significant welfare role in an enduring maritime presence of Nordic citizens. 

Swedberg was the father of Emanuel Swedenborg. The latter first visited London in 1710 and was to return a dozen times or more, often residing in the city for extended periods. He appreciated London’s freedom of expression allowing him to publish his works without the interference of Sweden’s strict anti-heresy laws. During his visits to the capital, Swedenborg resided in Wapping’s Scandinavian quarters and worshipped regularly at the Swedish Church. He was finally buried there following his death in 1772. The capital did not forget him. In 1789, the New Jerusalem Church at Maidenhead Court, Great Eastcheap, which was based on Swedenborgian principles, opened its doors to devotees with William and Catherine Blake as founder members. The London Society for Printing and Publishing the Works of Emanuel Swedenborg (now: Swedenborg Society) was founded in February 1810.

In 1906, the deserted Swedish Church (its congregation had moved on) was in danger of being demolished. Members of the London Swedenborg Society made representations to the Swedish government, recommending the repatriation of Emanuel’s remains. Some five years later, preparations were made to have his body reburied in Uppsala Cathedral. When the corpse was exhumed, it appeared that the body had been tampered with. An investigation revealed that Swedenborg’s cranium was stolen after the coffin had been opened in 1790 and sold to a phrenological society. In its place was put a substitute. After that, the relic changed hands several times, eventually finding its way to no. 4 Victoria Arcade, Swansea. Bookseller and phrenologist William Alfred Williams had purchased the skull in a London curiosity shop before World War I. When he died in 1957, it remained in the family before being offered at a Sotheby’s sale in March 1978. The auctioneer described the skull poetically as ‘of dark ivory colour, jawbone lacking … otherwise in good condition with an attractive patina’. The Swedish Royal Academy of Science was the highest bidder (£1,500), having decided that the skull was (almost) certainly that of the mystic philosopher. Swedenborg’s remains were reunited with its wandering cranium and returned to his country of birth.


Unshaven, Brooding, Magnificent | Little Holland House (Kensington)

In 1842, Edward Lear began a journey into the Italian peninsula and made the strenuous effort of travelling to the Abruzzo region where he fell in love with the harsh landscape and its hardy inhabitants. In notes and drawings, he gathered his impressions of local life and traditions, and described the splendour of ancient monuments. Lear drew a sketch of the medieval village of Albe; gave an account of Castello Piccolomini dominating the plain of Lago Fucino (which was drained a few years later); and recalled the stillness of snowy mountains that would impress D.H. Lawrence some seventy-five years later during his visit to Valle di Comino. 

Lear published his Illustrated Excursions in Italy in 1846. He firmly put the region and its people on the map of creative discovery. Sudden interest in this ‘forgotten’ locality did not spark a rush of artists to conquer the cut-off terrain. Instead, it led to migrant movement from Abruzzo and neighbouring Ciociaria towards the art capitals of Europe. It would have a notable effect on English aesthetics.

Galera 1842 Edward Lear 1812-1888 Presented by the Earl of Northbrook 1910 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N02749

During the nineteenth century, parts of Italy suffered serious economic hardship. From the 1820s onwards people started to leave en masse. Chain migration played a dominant part in the exodus from a fragmented society. The chain was formed by instrument makers from the valleys around Como; hat makers from Leghorn (Livorno); plaster cast makers from Lucca; waiters from Ticino; glass makers from Altare; and street musicians from Naples. Political integration did not solve the country’s economic problems. Emigration remained high in the following decades, owing to various crises in agriculture, and the inability of manufacture to generate enough jobs. 

Abruzzo and Ciociaria, now hailed as the greenest parts of Europe, were once lands of deprivation. Surrounded by rugged mountains, the districts were long isolated from other parts of Italy. A self-sufficient agricultural economy was crucial for survival. Although remoteness was opened up by an emerging railway network (in 1839, a first segment of railroad was laid stretching the short distance from Naples to Portici; seven years it had reached Venice), the regions remained among the poorest in the country. Their economies were based on traditional methods. Outdated sheep-raising systems and uncompetitive wool manufacture forced labourers to leave the land and move away. Unification in 1860 and the subsequent introduction of conscription, made young men feel that their only escape route was either brigandage or emigration (‘o emigranti o briganti’). The exodus of farmers and workers began there and then, became intense in the mid-1880s, and reached a peak between 1900 and 1915. With the port of Naples connected by the Ferrovia Sangritana rail service, the Americas were their main destination although many of them remained within Europe. Migration was stimulated by the government as it removed the (deeply feared) threat of social unrest. It also helped the balance of payment as most migrants sent money home to support their families. By 1915 half a million Abruzzese were living abroad. 

During the late nineteenth century and early 1900s many ‘romantic’ paintings were produced depicting the colourful costumes of Italian country-folk. Migrants found work acting as sitters for artists, sculptors, and photographers in Paris, Madrid, or elsewhere. They were admired for their grace and beauty. A typical example is Enrique Simonet Lombardo’s painting Woman from Ciociara (1889). The most successful of migrant models was Almerinda Caira. Born in Atina, she moved to France, and married the painter François-Maurice Roganeau, later Director of the Academy of Fine Arts of Bordeaux. She moved in prominent artistic and diplomatic circles and was a close friend of Giuseppe Garibaldi and his family.

In 1870, two significant events took place. The outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, and the subsequent Siege of Paris, disturbed social and artistic life in the capital. Many Italian models living in Paris crossed the Channel and settled in London where they were seen as ‘reliable’ workers, willing to supplement their earnings by selling ice creams or chestnuts, or act as organ grinders. They became the elite of the modelling profession and were prominent in leading studios and art classes. The conflict in France coincided with the foundation of the Slade School of Art at University College London. Its first Professor of Fine Art was Edward John Poynter, the future author of Classic and Italian Painting (1880). He urged his students to use Italian rather than English male models, arguing that their physique was superior. To this he added that their feet were not deformed, because they wore traditional sandals rather than tight-fitting modern shoes. An intriguing side line: the name Ciociaria is derived from ‘ciocie’, the primitive local footwear. According to Poynter’s aesthetic theory, the Italian model came close to the ideal of Greek masculinity. 

Victorian artists such as John William Waterhouse, Frederick Leighton, John Everett Millais, or John Singer Sergeant, employed migrant models. Angelo Colarossi had set a precedent. Born in 1838 in the village of Picinisco, he arrived in London in the mid-1860s. Having settled in Hammersmith, his fine physique had not gone unnoticed and he was soon in demand as a model. Posing for Julia Margaret Cameron at Little Holland House, Kensington, she produced the stunning 1867 image ‘Iago, Study from an Italian’ (Iago is a villain Shakespeare’s Othello). Unshaven and brooding, this is one of the finest portraits in early photography. His career soon took off.

John Everett Millais depicted him as a seaman in The Boyhood of Raleigh (1870), while John Singer Sargent cast him in the role of Moses. Frederic Leighton portrayed him as An Athlete Wrestling with a Python (1877)and as Elijah in the Wilderness (1879). Colarossi can also be seen as a figure in relief on the Albert Memorial, Kensington Gardens, and leading a lion as part of Queen Victoria’s Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace. In 1883, John William Waterhouse made him a slave in The Favourite of the Emperor Honorius. Angelo died in London in 1916. His son, also named Angelo, was the teenage model for Albert Gilbert’s Anteros in Piccadilly Circus (commonly known as Eros).

Gaetano Valvona fits the more rustic image of the migrant model. Born in 1857into a family of shepherds, he arrived in London during the early 1870s still wearing the costume of his native countryside. It provoked stone-throwing boys to chase him through Leather Lane, Holborn, where he had settled. His presence caught the eye of Frederick Leighton who made him his chosen model. Valvona posed for the Sluggard (1885), a life size bronze sculpture that Leighton exhibited at the Royal Academy. 

Orazio Cerviwas born at some time in the 1860s in Picinisco. As a sixteen-your old he walked to London where he joined the Italian community at Saffron Hill, Clerkenwell, and started work as a street performer. His Abruzzi outfit drew the attention of artists and he soon entered the elite group of models. He was Hamo Thornycroft’s preferred model. Cervi stood for The Stone Putter (1880) and Teucer (1881), the champion Greek archer. After producing classical nudes in the manner of Leighton, the sculptor turned in The Mower to a contemporary subject. Using an Italian model, this is the first sculpture of a British labourer at work (without political connotations). Shortly before World War I, his looks fading and commissions drying up, Cervi returned to his place of birth. In December 1919, D.H. Lawrence and Frieda paid him a visit on their way to Capri. The couple stayed for eight days in the primitive surroundings. In The Lost Girl the novelist based the character of Pancrazio on his host.

Suggestions about home-erotic relationships were rife when, in 1892, Nicola d’Iverno entered the service of John Singer Sargent, acting as his valet and model for two decades. Alessandro di Marco was another intriguing figure. His androgynous features made him an attractive sitter as it was possible for him to pose for both male and female figures. He stood for Merlin in Burne-Jones’s The Beguiling of Merlin (1872/7). He also posed for Walter Crane whose wife forbid her husband to use female models. Di Marco was favoured by Pre-Raphaelite artists exhibiting at Coutts Lindsay’s Grosvenor Gallery, Bond Street, as he was the ‘living embodiment of a classical sculpture’. This relatively short but evocative phase in the Anglo-Italian history of both art and migration came to an abrupt end with the start of World War I. The celebration of bright colour would be replaced by the dark aesthetics of loss and mutilation.

RATS, RAGS AND RICHES – Grove House (Wandsworth)

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Yolande Duvernay was born in December 1812 in Versailles. Little is known about her youth, apart from the fact that she was brought up in poverty. Her domineering mother, only known as Madame Duvernay, had been a dancer in her youth and steered her six-year old daughter into the same direction. An underfed and poorly clad girl, she was enrolled in the School of Dance where pupils were known as petits rats de l’Opéra. 

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Under control of their mothers, the rats spent their days in school and their evenings on the stage of the opera house, appearing in a variety of juvenile roles. Dance may have been a career for some in the end, for most girls it was an instruction into coquetterie and a pathway into the shady world of sex and abuse. Men of society kept an eye on ballet pupils and, through mothers who ‘managed’ their daughters, made sexual assignations with the young rat of their choice. The school was a stage where mothers ‘auctioned’ off their daughters. Some girls did make careers and Yolande fared particularly well. She was described as an elegant young woman and a graceful dancer. Aware of the situation, Madame Duvernay was intent to exploit her daughter’s eye-catching presence. In 1831, Yolande became the mistress of Louis-Désiré Véron, the newly appointed director of the Paris Opéra after the toppling of the Bourbon monarchy. He took her out of ballet school and promoted her straight into leading roles. She made her début in Jean-Baptiste Blache’s neo-classical ballet Mars et Vénus ou Les fillets de Vulcain (1809). Having adopted the stage name Pauline Duvernay, she became the star of the theatre.

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Her fame crossed the Channel where Princess Victoria loved her performances. Young Wiliam Makepeace Thackeray was in awe of her and, according to fellow dancer and friend Antoine Coulon, she was the ‘idol of all the dandies’ in London. In October 1836, Pauline performed at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, where she danced the role of Florinda in the first London production of Le diable boiteux. Published as a novel set in Madrid by Alain-René Lesage in 1707 (translated as ‘The Devil upon Two Sticks’ in 1708), the story was turned into a ballet by Jean Coralli in 1836. Her performance of an unusual Spanish-Cuban solo dance, the ‘cachucha’, catapulted her to unequalled fame. Alone on stage, castanets in her hands, wearing a pink satin dress trimmed with black lace, she added a provocative twist to the curious steps of the dance (captured in a hand-coloured lithograph by John Frederick Lewis in February 1837). Society went wild. Men of all ages were eager to pay for the privilege of being near to her. The price (set by Madame Duvernay) was high. All rivals in the ‘sale’ of sexual favours were outbid by a self-effacing, but immensely rich man. His name was Stephens Lyne-Stephens. His wealth was inherited.

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Protestant glassmaker William Stephens was the illegitimate son of Cornish schoolmaster Oliver Stephens and servant girl Jane Smith. In 1746 he travelled to Portugal where one of his relations worked as a merchant. In 1755 he survived the Lisbon earthquake and during the next decade he made a living out of burning lime to provide mortar for rebuilding the city. In 1769, he was asked by Sebastião José de Carvalho e Mel, 1st Marquis of Pombal, Secretary of the State of Internal Affairs in the government of Joseph I and its de facto head, to re-open a derelict glass factory which was located some ninety miles north of Lisbon. Such was the urgency to stimulate commercial activity that he was granted a number of lucrative privileges: exemption from all taxes; a monopoly of glass supply in Portugal and its colonies; and free use of fuel from the Royal pine forest. Joseph I died in 1777 and was succeeded by his eldest daughter Maria I who hated Pombal and his policies. The latter lost his position, but Stephens held on to his status and build a good working relationship with the new queen. That in itself was remarkable. She was a Catholic monarch who believed that her authority was derived from God; he was an illegitimate and foreign Protestant ‘heretic’ – and they enjoyed each other’s company. William retained his privileges for almost forty years and build up an enormous fortune. After he died, unmarried and childless, his wealth was bequeathed to a cousin in London, Charles Lyne, who applied for Royal license to take the name Lyne-Stephens. Charles’s inheritance made him the richest commoner in England. It became a cause célèbre and his only son and heir, Stephens Lyne-Stephens, found himself in great demand by families with unmarried daughters. But Stephens was an unassuming young man who showed little interest in the company of women – until the day he encountered Pauline Duvernay on stage at Drury Lane. 

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At that time she was the mistress of the diplomat Charles, Marquis de la Valette, but in an arrangement negotiated between Count d’Orsay (a friend of Stephens and himself a colorful French figure in British high society) and Yolande’s greedy mother who took two-thirds of the cash deal, Stephens paid a considerable amount of money for the pleasure of ‘owning’ the ballerina. Stephens provided Yolande with a comfortable lifestyle and a property in Kensington, whilst he remained at his father’s estate in Portman Square, Marylebone, to keep up appearances. In 1837, he persuaded her to retire from the stage and live with him at his father’s house. The latter felt uncomfortable with the arrangement (she demanded that he addressed her in French) and, in June 1843, he acquired Grove House in Wandsworth. Pauline remained Stephens’s mistress for eight years. In 1845, out of the blue, the couple married at St Mary’s Church in Putney for an Anglican service, followed by a Catholic one at Cadogan Terrace chapel in Chelsea. To keep a mistress in Victorian society was quietly accepted, but to marry in a mixture of religion was considered a social disgrace. Ostracised by relations and friends, London became a prison to them. When his father died in 1851, Stephens became the richest man in Britain. He bought Hôtel Molé, a grand mansion in the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, acquired Lynford Hall near Thetford (Norfolk), and built up a celebrated art collection. The couple settled at Grove House.

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The Grove estate was re-designed and built in the later eighteenth century by James Wyatt for the Dutch immigrant merchant and financier Joshua van Neck (the name was later anglicised as Vanneck). At his death in 1777, he was one of the richest men in Europe. Yolande settled in an environment of traditional wealth and she acquired her share of it. When Stephens died in 1860, he left his entire fortune to her. She became the nation’s wealthiest woman, richer – it was rumoured – than Queen Victoria. She owned three grand estates in England and Paris, thousands of acres of land, and employed hundreds of staff. Yolande continued to live at Grove House, building a Romanesque mausoleum in its grounds. In addition, she acquired the 1863 sculptural group Fighting Bulls by Jean-Baptiste Clésinger which was sited in the gardens of Lynford Hall also as a memorial to her late husband. 

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Not equipped to handle her financial obligations, she befriended Edward Stopford Claremont, a former British military attaché in Paris and friend of Napoleon III, to help her out. Yolande persuaded him to join her at Lynford Hall and live in a ménage-à-trois with his tragically unhappy wife. The arrangement lasted for two decades. Then the past started to trouble her. There were dark secrets and two abandoned children in Paris. Religion took hold of her. She gave huge sums of money to the church and financed the building of Our Lady and the English Martyrs in Cambridge, one of the biggest Catholic churches in England. With the tallest spire in the city, the building remains a landmark sight.

Yolande Duvernay died on 2 September 1894. She rests in the Grove House mausoleum, next to her husband. Since the marriage had been childless, the trustees put the contents of Lynford Hall and most of the furniture and paintings in Grove House up for sale. The auction took place at Christie’s in May 1895 and lasted nine days. A whole day was devoted to pictures, including portraits of Philip IV and the Infanta Maria Teresa by Velazquez; paintings by Albert Cuyp, Bellini, Veronese, Watteau, Murillo, Claude Lorrain, and others. The furniture was French, mostly Louis XIV and Louis XVI; there was a large quantity of (Sèvres) porcelain; and a wide variety of exclusive objets d’art. Day nine was exclusively dedicated to silverware and jewelry for which a separate catalog was issued for this day (17 pages, 158 items). The sale attracted buyers from Paris, Vienna, Berlin, New York, and elsewhere. The proceeds of the sale were mind-boggling. It was a classic rags-to-riches story with an immigration twist: a young rat who had been ‘auctioned’ by her mother in Paris setting a record art sale at Christie’s after her demise as Britain’s richest widow.

Yolande Marie-Louise Duvernay, Mrs Stephen Lyne-Stephens (1812-1894) by Lorenzo Bartolini (Vernio, Tuscany 1777 ¿ Florence 1850)

Patriotism and Resentment : A Tale for our Time


The London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) is the oldest of the capital’s orchestras and the first British orchestra owned by its players. As a self-governing body, LSO gave its first concert on 9 June 1904, conducted by Hans Richter (the first principal conductor until 1911) at Queen’s Hall, Langham Place, Westminster. Since 1982, the orchestra has been permanently based in the Barbican Centre. Among conductors with whom it is most associated are, in its early days, Hans Richter, Edward Elgar, and Thomas Beecham. In more recent decades Pierre Monteux, André Previn, Claudio Abbado, Colin Davis and Valery Gergiev have been working with the orchestra. Simon Rattle will take up his position of musical director from September 2017. The creation of LSO was the result of a musical uprising in which immigrant musicians played a prominent part. 

At the turn of the twentieth century there were no permanent salaried orchestras in London. Musicians were contracted on an individual basis. Since there were competing demands for the services of performers and no binding contracts, a player was free to accept a better-paid engagement at any time. He (it was male dominated profession) would simply hire another player to deputise for him at the original concert. In September 1903, Robert Newman, the manager of the Queen’s Hall, and the conductor of his promenade concerts, Henry Wood, unilaterally decided to end this chaotic system. In response, approximately half of its players resigned from the Queen’s Hall Orchestra. Musicians were not highly paid, and removing the opportunity of more lucrative engagements was a financial blow to many of them. Some of the leading players decided to form their own orchestra. 


The principal movers of the initiative were horn players Adolf Borsdorf, Thomas Busby, and Henri van der Meerschen, and trumpeter John Solomon. As performers these men were highly regarded and referred to as ‘God’s Own Quartet’. Busby organised a meeting in which he set out the principles. A new ensemble named the London Symphony Orchestra was to be run on co-operative lines, something ‘akin to a Musical Republic’. Members would share in the orchestra’s profits at the end of each season. The proposal was approved unanimously. Newman held no grudge against the rebels, and made the Queen’s Hall available to them. He and Wood attended the LSO’s first 1904 concert which included the prelude to Die Meistersinger, music by Bach, Mozart, Liszt, Elgar, and finally Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. German music ruled the capital.


Henri Louis van der Meerschen was born in Brussels on 30 September 1866. He attended the Brussels Conservatoire studying under Louis-Henri Merck. There he earned the Premier Prix with distinction in 1885 after which he was invited by Bruges-born Eugène Goossens to become a member of the celebrated Carl Rosa Opera Company at Drury Lane. This company had been founded by Hamburg-born Karl Rose with the aim of producing operas in English. The British premier of Puccini’s La Bohème and Madame Butterfly were among his successes. He was also the outstanding performer of Wagner at the time, presenting The Flying Dutchman (1876), Rienzi (1879), Lohengrin (1880), and Tannhäuser (1882) to an English audience. Having joined Henry Wood’s Queen’s Hall Orchestra, Van der Meerschen was one of the four rebels who initiated the foundation of LSO. 


In 1914 the LSO had just reached its tenth birthday. Financially sound and artistically refined, the orchestra was acknowledged to be among the finest in the world. The outbreak of war intervened. Conductors and musicians cancelled tours and performances because they were unable to travel; some members of the orchestra were enlisted. In spite of difficulties, LSO declared that it would continue playing concerts. By 1916 the situation became more problematical. Grave news from the front spread gloom and pessimism at home. The Zeppelin bombardment of London kept audiences indoors. At the start of the year conscription had been imposed. By July 1917 thirty-three members of the orchestra (about a third of its male membership) were sent to the trenches for active service. An increasing number of female players acted as their replacements. 


Traditionally, the LSO had strong German roots and preferences. In 1915 it had initiated a successful ‘Three Bs Festival’: Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. An attempt to repeat the treat in 1916 hit the brick wall of a hostile press and public opinion. In September 1916 the Pall Mall Gazette attacked the orchestra in a crusading series of articles for the overwhelming presence of German music in their repertoire. It argued that those in London ‘who have felt war in their skins are not to be drugged with sound, however sweet’. LSO was forced to present a more patriotic, if not jingoistic program of performances. 


Edward Elgar, who had been LSO’s principal conductor during 1911/2, was living in London at the outbreak of war. In 1914 he was asked to contribute to an anthology called King Albert’s Book to raise money for Belgian refugees affected by German occupation. Brussels-born playwright, poet and translator Émile Leon Cammaerts had moved to England in 1908. He translated works by John Ruskin into French and selected a number of G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown detective stories in La clairvoyance du père Brown. In 1933 he was appointed Professor of Belgian Studies at the University of London. He married actress Helen Tita Braun (stage name: Tita Brand), a daughter of the Wagnerian diva Marie Brema (who was born Mary Agnes [Minnie] Fehrmann, the daughter of merchant from Bremen in Liverpool). Elgar set Cammaert’s poem ‘Après Anvers’ to an orchestral accompaniment. It was premiered under the name of Carillon by the LSO on 7 December 1914 at the Queen’s Hall. The composer himself conducted and Tita Brand recited the poem. It roused anti-German spirits at the time and was revived for the same reason during World War II with a new text by Laurence Binyon.


For resident German musicians in Britain the war years were a bitter and painful experience. Impresario Alfred Curtis was born Alfred Schulz-Curtius around 1853 in Germany. He settled in London in the early 1870s. He founded a music and artists’ management agency at no. 44 Regent Street, Piccadilly Circus, in 1876. He was the first to bring Richard Wagner’s music to the London public. In 1882, he arranged the British staging of the Ring Cycle under the Hungarian conductor Anton Seidl. During decades of professional activity, Schulz-Curtius organised dozens of concerts in London’s venues and worked with many of Europe’s major conductors and performers. At the beginning of the First World War he was arrested and interned as an enemy alien, despite of having become a naturalised British subject in 1895, and changing his name by deed poll to Alfred Curtis in September 1914. He died in March 1918.


Adolf Borsdorf was one of the leading figures in the rebellion against Newman and Wood in 1903/4 and the subsequent foundation of the LSO. Born on 25 December 1854 in Dittmansdorf, Saxony, he studied French horn at the Dresden conservatory and played in a military band. In 1879 he moved to London where he stayed for the rest of his life. He was appointed Professor at the Royal College of Music, South Kensington, when it was founded in 1882. He was playing principal horn in the orchestra that Henry Wood conducted at the first Promenade Concert in the Queen’s Hall in 1895. He was also in the orchestra when Richard Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel was given its first English performance in 1896 with the composer conducting. Enjoying an international reputation, he used his influence to secure Hans Richter to conduct LSO’s first concert. 


The intensity of anti-German feeling during of the First World War would deeply hurt him. At the outbreak of hostilities, he had been living in London for more than thirty years and his wife was British. In spite of that, the members of the orchestra turned against him. They requested his removal from their ranks. By October 1915 he was told that he would not be allowed to play again until the end of the war. In November he felt forced to resign from an orchestra he himself had helped to create and to flourish. Borsdorf never performed professionally again. He died in April 1923. His vital contribution to London’s musical culture in general and to raising the standard of British horn playing in particular was only recognised in retrospect. The risk of whipped up patriotism is that it quickly runs sour. In becoming an expression of resentment rather than pride, the spirit of tolerance is sacrificed.

Angel lust / Vine Street


Historically, public hangings were a festive occasion for Londoners. A rowdy and drunken mob followed the procession through the streets from the prison to Tyburn, pelting the convicted criminals with rotten vegetables. Executions drew large number of spectators. It was a profitable day for publicans, pie merchants, pickpockets, whores, and broadside sellers. At the place of punishment there was a lot going on. The condemned person was allowed to make a ‘gallows speech’. Then a prison chaplain would urge the criminal to repent in a final prayer. The hangman appeared, the noose was adjusted, and a bag drawn over the criminal’s head. The horse would be lashed to move the cart and leave the criminal hanging in the air. There was another, less reported aspect that may have contributed to the excitement.
Seventeenth century observers at public executions noted that some male victims developed an erection and occasionally ejaculated when being hanged.

This post-mortem erection (angel lust) has been attributed to pressure on the cerebellum created by the noose. This is a different mechanism from that of auto-erotic asphyxia which seeks to increase arousal by restricting the oxygen supply to the brain by tightening a noose around the neck. In 1990, the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction published an influential New Report on Sex. It describes auto-erotic asphyxia as ‘the deliberate reduction of oxygen to the brain – temporary suffocation. The belief is that it enhances orgasm, but no research has ever verified this effect’.

Journalist and translator Pierre-Antoine Le Motteux [Peter Anthony Motteux] was born ‪on 25 February‬ 1663 in Rouen into a Huguenot family. After the revocation of the Edict of Nantes ‪on 18 October‬ 1685, Motteux took up residence in London. He was made an English citizen ‪on 5 March‬ 1686. An able man, Motteux established himself rapidly in his adopted country, soon securing himself a place at the centre of its literary culture. He made his literary début as the editor and publisher of the Gentleman’s Journal (1692/4), a general magazine modelled on the Mercure Gallant. The journal contained poetry, literary and theatrical criticism, songs, enigmas, tales, burlesques, translations, essays, and scientific discoveries of the time. It has been called the ‘first English magazine’. One of its issues (October 1693) was devoted to ‘Pieces written by Persons of the Fair Sex’.


Motteux’s greatest literary successes were his translations of the works of Rabelais and of Cervantes’s Don Quixote (1700/03). His version of the latter work was widely admired throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for its lucidity and wit (although future translators would be far more critical of his effort). He was also active in the 1690s and early 1700s as a dramatist and librettist. During this period he produced a series of occasional poems, songs, prologues, and epilogues. Among his miscellaneous works, A Poem in Praise of Tea (‘the Nectar of the Gods’) published in 1701, is the best known. His literary output declined considerably in his later years. ‪From around 1705‬ he traded in East Indian merchandise and works of art. The last activity was the principal occupation of his final decade, and his ‘India warehouse’ in Leadenhall Street, City of London, became a fashionable meeting place. On his fifty-fifth birthday, in good health and full of life, he donned his famous scarlet cloak, and went out on the town. He picked up Mary Roberts, a prostitute, and after some dalliance returned to her bordello at Star Court, near Temple Bar, where he died in February 1718 from assisted erotic asphyxia.


Based upon contemporary case notes, the medical case of Motteux’s demise has been reconstructed by later researchers. By contrast, the court case dealing with the death in London of an immigrant musician towards the end of the eighteenth century hit the headlines. Composer and double bass player František Kocžwara was born in Prague about 1750. He seems to have been an itinerant musician in Germany and the Netherlands, but had moved to England by 1775. He lived in various places, including London and Bath. In 1783 he travelled to Dublin, where he played violin in the band at the Smock Alley Theatre, Temple Bar. While in Ireland he composed his most popular work, The Battle of Prague: a favorite sonata for the piano forte, with an accompaniment for the violin & bass (op. 23). His compositions are mainly piano works and chamber music for piano and stringed instruments. He had returned to London by May 1791, as he played in the Concerts of Ancient Music and the Handel commemoration in Westminster Abbey that month. Kocžwara is more famous for the spectacular manner of his death than for his musical output. On 16 September 1791 prostitute Susannah Hill was tried at the Old Bailey for the composer’s murder. At her trial, she described how, on 2 September 1791 at a house of ill repute in Vine Street, near Piccadilly, Kocžwara had drunk a great deal of brandy and asked to be hanged in order to raise his passion. When she cut him down minutes later he was dead. She was accused of his murder. However, the case was dismissed at the Old Bailey and she was acquitted.

In the historical literature males have figured more prominently than females (although various such cases have been reported), beginning with the death of Kocžwara. In medical science, however, erotic asphyxia was not defined for another two hundred years. The death of the Czech composer led forensic psychiatrist Park Elliott Dietz in Auto-Erotic Fatalities (1983) to suggest the term ‘Koczwarraism’ for behaviour utilizing asphyxial augmentation of the sexual response. The theme was touched upon in literature much earlier. In the same year as the composer’s death, Marquis de Sade published his notorious novel Justine which includes a graphic description of an episode of sexual asphyxia. In James Joyce’s Ulysses (chapter 12) Bloom explains ‘scientifically’ why hanged men undergo sexual erections at the moment of execution. Strangling oneself or others for erotic pleasure is depicted in William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch (1959) and features in In the Realm of the Senses, a Japanese film of the notorious Sada Abe story, first shown in 1976. Both book and film were received with a sense of shock. The novel was originally published in Paris in July 1959 by Maurice Girodias, founder of the Olympia Press. Because of American obscenity laws, a complete edition by Grove Press did not follow until 1962. The film also generated fierce controversy during its release. In general, auto-erotic asphyxia has remained a taboo subject. It is one of social history’s better kept secrets.

The Artist as Migrant: Silver Street (Soho)

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The nomadic lifestyle of the artist is a recurrent theme in contemporary literature and aesthetic thinking. Modern philosophy of art tends to depict the artist as a citizen of the world, a global mind, as the eternal traveller. This view is a relatively recent one. In Classical culture, he would have been identified as the inhabitant of a specific polis or city. Even during the humanist era outspoken cosmopolitanism remained the exception.

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The term cosmopolitanism first appeared in the sixteenth century. Guillaume Postel visited the East on the orders of François I to collect manuscripts for the French Royal collection. In De la République des Turcs (1560) he gave a detailed and sympathetic account of Turkish culture. The book itself was signed by Guillaume Postel Cosmopolite (to later historians he became known as ‘le Gaulois cosmopolite’). One may find use of the word on occasion during the seventeenth century, but it was not until the Enlightenment that intellectuals came to regard themselves as proud members of a transnational ‘Republic of Letters’. In the eighteenth century, cosmopolitanism indicated an attitude of intellectual sophistication and open-mindedness. A cosmopolitan mind was not a follower of a particular religious or political authority, but an independent thinker and a man of the world. More often than not, he was a multi-lingual person who was at home in all European capitals. The 1789 Declaration of Human Rights was the result of cosmopolitan modes of thinking.

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Artistic migration before and even during the Enlightenment was motivated by much more mundane considerations. The artist moved away from home out of economic necessity and in search of patrons. He had to make a living. Traditionally, London had been a destination for those who were artistically gifted. In Tudor times, Continental artists and musicians were lured to sell their skills to royal and aristocratic households. During the reign of Charles I and particularly since the Restoration a seemingly unending number of Flemish and Dutch painters, engravers and sculptors joint the court or aristocratic estates. The ‘glorious’ seventeenth century produced too many artists in the Low Countries and not enough clients. The market simply was too small for such an overwhelming presence of talent. It was a period of cultural overproduction. For many young artists there was only one solution to their predicament: relocate, move elsewhere, and find a more equal playing field where their talent would be acknowledged. Or, to put it more crudely, find a place where they could earn money, get some commissions, and make a living. And move they did. They moved in their hundreds. They headed for Italy, Sweden, Germany, even for Russia – most of them crossed the Channel. It is interesting to note that English ambassadors in the Low Countries regularly functioned as ‘scouts’ who informed the court and gentry about the talent they had spotted whilst performing their diplomatic duties. Or they tried to encourage artists to move to England with the promise and prospect of employment and/or commissions.

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The courts of Charles II, James II, and William and Mary employed numerous foreign artists and craftsmen, and as a result English late seventeenth-century taste in interior decoration was decidedly Continental. In March 1709, a competition was announced to decorate the dome of Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s Cathedral. The most coveted contemporary commission, it attracted bids from British and foreign artists. In March 1709, a competition was announced to decorate the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral.

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By 1710 the field of competitors was narrowed down to two candidates, James Thornhill and Venice-born Antonio Pellegrini (a director of Godfrey Kneller’s newly founded art academy in Queen Anne Street, 1711), each being required to execute their proposed designs on a model of the cupola. On 28 June 1715 Thornhill was awarded the commission by a Whig dominated committee.

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Archbishop Thomas Tenison’s pronouncement ‘I am no judge of painting, but on two articles I think I may insist: first that the painter employed be a Protestant; and secondly that he be an Englishman’, may not have an identified source, but it does echo a growing patriotic (anti-alien) sentiment which was put into words in the Weekly Packet of June 1715 by suggesting that the committee’s decision will ‘put to silence all the loud applauses hitherto given to foreign artists’. Others would argue that it reflected growing confidence in British native ability. As a consequence, the number of immigrant artists was dwindling rapidly.

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At that time, foreign in painting meant Italian – more specifically: Venetian. Decorative and portrait painter Giacomo Amiconi [Jacopo Amigoni] was born in Naples of Venetian parents in 1682. By 1711 he had established himself as an artist in Venice. Having worked all over northern Europe, he arrived in London in 1729. As an architectural decorator Amiconi joined forces with Gaetano Brunetti working on Lord Tankerville’s house in St James’s Square in early 1730 and on the Duke of Chandos’s residence at Cavendish Square in 1735. He painted a Banquet of the Gods on the ceiling at Covent Garden Theatre as well as a fresco above the stage (lost with the 1782 renovation). He was identified with Italian opera through his close friendship with the castrato Farinelli who was resident in London from 1734, and his marriage in May 1738 to opera singer Maria Antonia Marchesini (known as ‘La Lucchesina’).

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Amiconi’s work was fashionable in aristocratic London, but the established taste for Italian opera and for Venetian Rococo painting had started to decline by that time. A movement was in the making in favour of a more robust style in music, theatre and art. His staircase decoration for the Spanish ambassador at Powis House, Great Ormond Street, sparked controversy in 1734. The artist was attacked by James Ralph in the Weekly Register as one of those foreigners who painted in an overblown manner, compared with the more wholesome qualities of English art. Amiconi left London for Venice in August 1739 having been supplanted by Hogarth as decorator of St Bartholomew’s Hospital. Foreigners were less welcome than they had been previously.

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Between 1732 and 1734, Amiconi occupied a house in Silver Street, Soho (now: Beak Street; the occupant is named in the rate books as James Amicony). When the latter encouraged fellow artist Antonio Canaletto to move to London, the latter settled in Silver Street as well. The Canal family, whose Venice lineage is traceable from the mid-sixteenth century, were ‘cittadini originari’, a class immediately below the patrician. Its most famous son was Giovanni Antonio Canal, better known as Canaletto.

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His first dated work is a large ‘Capriccio of Classical Ruins and a Pyramid’ (1723), which already surpasses anything in this genre produced by his contemporaries. It shows an imaginary landscape (capriccio means ‘fancy’) with arched Roman ruins supported by Corinthian columns, through which a church with a campanile can be seen while small figures are digging around. Further back a pyramid and Roman statue are depicted. From the start architecture and architectural elements played a dominant part in his paintings. Just like his predecessor Luca Carlevarijs, the first of the great Venetian view painters, Canaletto realised that the demand for prospects of the city among foreign visitors offered a viable commercial opportunity. Throughout his career, in creating his urban panoramas he took the liberty of including distortions in order to ‘improve’ reality for pictorial effect and, of course, saleability. He also developed the additional skill of depicting ceremonial events and festivals.

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From the late 1720s to the early 1750s Canaletto’s fortunes were bound up with the figure of Joseph Smith, British Consul in Venice. The latter was one of the foremost collectors in the city who, over three decades, acquired fifty paintings by the artist, which he housed in his impressive palace on the Grand Canal. They were eventually sold en bloc to George III in 1762, along with 142 of the artist’s superb drawings. By 1730, Smith was acting as an agent in the sale of Canaletto’s work to English collectors which resulted in a constant flow of commissions throughout the decade that marks the peak of the painter’s career. With the constant demand for Canaletto’s work came a need to delegate various tasks to assistants. One of those, in the late 1730s and early 1740s, was his nephew Bernardo Bellotto, the only artist to rival him as the greatest Italian view painter of the eighteenth century. Canaletto’s studio was turned into a factory of art. With the ever increasing demand for paintings, the artist’s studio was rationalised in a quite a remarkable manner. It became a kind of early industrialised work-floor with a proper division of labour amongst specialised employees who worked on a production line of art. Canaletto had learned from his predecessors. The example of Rubens’s studio is well documented. Similar ways of working were introduced by Anthony van Dyck or Peter Lely in their London studios. All this, of course, long before the notion of the ‘division of labour’ was discussed by the Scottish socio-economic philosophers of the eighteenth century.

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The outbreak of the War of the Austrian Succession in 1741 restricted travel to Venice. As a consequence, the number of commissions for painted Venetian views diminished. In May 1746 Canaletto moved to London. There he was to remain for ten years as a resident at no. 16 Silver Street. Although his English paintings vary in quality, he soon found himself as busy as he had been in the 1730s. Like many artists before him, Canaletto was an economic migrant. Art does not acknowledge borders, neither physically nor intellectually.
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Music, Maestros and Real Men: Dean Street (Soho)

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Music in eighteenth century England was largely performed and taught by foreigners. There were Italian virtuosi, French dance masters, German music teachers, Dutch composers – all of them economically motivated immigrants. The fact that music was dominated by foreigners had much to do with the regard in which the art form was held in society. From Tudor times to the early seventeenth century, a spirit of Renaissance humanism had prevailed in English cultivated circles with regard to music. Henry VIII was a dedicated patron of the arts and of music in particular. He attracted many musicians from the Continent to his court and was a keen performer himself. His thinking was in line with Baldassare Castiglione’s Il Cortegiano (translated into English as Book of the Courtier in 1561 by Thomas Hoby and reprinted in London as late as 1724) where a gentleman’s participation in music was appreciated and encouraged. Written over a period of two decades, Castiglione had published his etiquette guide (what makes a perfect courtier?) in 1528 in the form of a set of fictional conversations taking place over the course of four evenings at the court of the Duke of Urbino. Music is frequently mentioned as being an integral part of aristocratic life.
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By 1693, John Locke completely reversed that judgment in his influential essay ‘Some Thoughts Concerning Education’. Locke gives music the lowest place amongst all those ‘things that ever came into the List of Accomplishments’. He rejects the pursuit or performance of music as a waste of a young man’s time. Puritans had traditionally attacked music as an affront to morality. In The Anatomie of Abuses (1583) Philip Stubbes considers music as a major danger to the manners and morals of his time: ‘I say of Musicke … that it is very il for yung heds, for a certeine kind of nice, smoothe sweetnes in alluring the auditorie to nicesness, effeminancie, pusillanimity, & lothsomnes of life’. Music and the playhouse were a threat in the Puritan mind because, as it was argued, they cannot be enjoyed without ‘evil communications’. Music was considered a species of effeminacy. A puritanical element always remained part of the argument of those who were critical about the role of music in society.
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In eighteenth century English society music increasingly functioned as a passive entertainment performed mostly by Continental professionals. England did not produce any outstanding composers during that era. Music being non-productive, it was considered a misuse of a man’s valuable time. The attitude is reflected in the pages of The Spectator where Addison (no. 18, March 1710/11) described music as an ‘agreeable entertainment; but if it would take the entire possession of our ears, if it would make us incapable of hearing sense, if it would exclude arts that have much more tendency to the refinement of human nature; I must confess I would allow it no better quarter than Plato has done, who banishes it out of his commonwealth’. Music’s social role, on the other hand, was valued in that it helped women fill their time. Music kept wives and daughters in the empty space assigned to them and hence contributed to the maintenance of domestic stability. The visual representation of music clearly shows a gender differentiation in instrumental application. Among the portrayal of girls with musical attributes the use of the tambourine is a popular image. This was considered a feminine instrument producing a gentle, non-aggressive sound. Boys on the other hand were depicted with infantry drums (Shakespeare’s ‘spirit-stirring drum’) which set aggressive rhythms preparing the youngster for a life of strife, power and conflict.

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London’s musical waste land was soon occupied by immigrants who made a substantial contribution in developing the noble art in Britain, including in the domain of music publishing. Music in London became a proper cosmopolitan affair. Francesco Cianchettini was born in Rome in 1765/6. He was in London by 1799 when he married singer and pianist Bohemia-born Veronika Dussek, sister of the virtuoso pianist J.L. Dussek. He joined forces with the talented Italian cello player Sperati and published a series of twenty-seven symphonies in score editions each month between 1807 and 1809, using the imprint ‘London: Printed for Cianchettini & Sperati Publishers and Importers of Classical Music, no. 5 Princes Street, Cavendish Square’. Apart from eighteen symphonies by Joseph Haydn and six pieces by Mozart, Beethoven’s first three symphonies were published here as score editions for the first time in a score type that would not be common on the Continent until the 1820s. The first edition in voices, published in 1804 by a Vienna publisher, served as master. Beethoven did not know about this edition and did not receive any remuneration. Neither was it Beethoven who dedicated the composition to Prince Regent George but the publishers. Francesco’s son Pio Cianchettini, composer and pianist, was born in London 1799. At the age of five, he appeared at the Opera House as an infant prodigy. A year later, Pio travelled with his father through Holland, Germany and France, where he was trumpeted as the ‘English’ Mozart. Britain has always been quick to assume ownership of the triumphs of its immigrant residents.
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Vincent Novello was the son of an immigrant Italian father of Piedmontese origins who had arrived in England in August 1771. Giuseppe Novello was a pastry cook and set up his own confectioner’s business having taken a lease of a small property at no. 240 Oxford Street. Vincent was born at this address. He became one of the leading contributors to the development of British musical life and education in the first half of the nineteenth century. As a boy, Novello was a chorister at the Sardinian Chapel in Duke Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, where he learnt to play the organ. From 1796 to 1822 he became in succession organist of the Sardinian, Spanish (Manchester Square) and Portuguese (South Street, Grosvenor Square) chapels, and from 1840 to 1843 of St Mary’s Chapel, Moorfields. He acquainted himself with a large body of the (early) sacred repertory. At the time, this music was rarely performed and available only in manuscript. In an effort to disseminate it more widely, Novello published a ‘Collection of Sacred Music as Performed at the Royal Portuguese Chapel in London’ (1811). He was soon publishing other edited collections of sacred music. From these beginnings he established himself as a music publisher.

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Novello was one of the (thirty) founding members of the Philharmonic Society in February 1813. London at the time did not have a permanent orchestra nor an organised series of chamber music concerts. The aim was to promote the performance of instrumental music in the capital. Concerts were held in the Argyll Rooms until it burned down in 1830. The first concert, on 8 March 1813, reflects the European involvement in the project. It was presided over by Bonn-born composer, violinist and impresario Johann Peter Salomon, who became one of London’s prominent musicians. Highly rated virtuoso Muzio Clementi was at the piano and child prodigy Nicolas Mori (born on 24 January 1796/7 in London, the son of an Italian wig maker) was the lead violinist. They performed symphonies by Haydn and Beethoven.
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Novello’s great contribution lay in the introduction to England of unknown compositions by the great masters, such as the Masses of Haydn and Mozart, and the works of Palestrina. He was one of the pioneers of the Choral Harmonists Society (that was founded in January 1833 and lasted until 1851). This society involved amateur musicians in the performance of large choral works such as masses, madrigals and oratorios. Vincent’s son Joseph Alfred Novello had started his career as a bass singer, but became a regular music publisher in 1829. He was the creator of the business as we know it today. He established the publishing house at no. 69 Dean Street, Soho (no. 70 was added later to the company). The firm did not begin to publish contemporary music in a systematic way until the 1850s and 1860s. Edward Elgar signed to Novello and many others followed him, including Gustav Holst and Herbert Howells. The business is still going strong.
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