Sunday, November 13, 2011
Sunday, October 2, 2011
The protagonist in my current work-in-progress is from Warsaw, and in doing research about the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, I ran across an article of interest. Coffin portraits, seldom used outside the Commonwealth, were an important part of Polish funerals, usually lavish and ceremonial, even for the common people. However, a farmer’s portrait may have been drawn by a family member, whereas a nobleman’s image was done by a professional artist. Portraits of the deceased were attached to the coffins, then removed before burial and hung on the walls of the church.
The metal on which the portrait was painted was shaped to fit the end of the coffin where the head of the deceased would be. The opposite end of the coffin generally held the epitaph, and on the side of the coffin mourners would see the coat-of-arms of the deceased. Because most were painted in oils, on either tin or silver, the images have disappeared from churches as years passed, either taken as booty during one of several wars, or stolen by vandals.
Aside from this period in the Polish Commonwealth, the term coffin portrait was also used to describe the funerary art from Ancient Egypt, portraits common during 1 BC and until 3 AD, a relatively narrow expanse of time. The Egyptian portraits were painted on wood. The portrait covered the face of the mummy, and was attached to the cloths used to wrap the mummy. Some nine hundred of these Egyptian portraits are in the hands of collectors and museums, but because of the warm climate in Egypt, which helps to preserve the wood, the portraits are useful in determining hairstyles and clothing of the period.
Sunday, September 25, 2011
I loved mysteries as a teenager, but somewhere along the way, I turned to historical novels, my first love. However, not long ago I took the time to read a debut mystery written by another member of Historical Novel Society. I love books set in France (as is evident by my writing), and so I settled down to read Judith Rock’s Rhetoric of Death, an historical mystery set in 17th century Paris. To my delight, the novel has all the appeal of good historical fiction—the ability to transport me to the past, to the streets of Paris, where a Jesuit monk follows leads down dusty back alleys to solve the mystery of a murdered student and the attempt on the life of another.
If you love historical novels, you will love Rhetoric of Death. Judith has another mystery just out, The Eloquence of Death. The book titles would be off-putting were the author not so talented, the plots interesting, and the characters so real. I’m recommending it to both my book groups, and highly recommend Judith’s books to anyone who wants a book they can’t put down until the final page, wishing then the read was not yet finished.
Saturday, August 20, 2011
As early as the 8th century, musical instruments have had keys, though the keyed instrument Emperor Constantine sent to King Pepin of France was probably nothing like the keyboard instruments of today.
In the early part of the 11th century, Guido of Arezzo, a Benedictine monk who is regarded to be the inventor of modern musical notation (the staff) and the ut-re-mi (do, re, mi name for tones) devised a way to attach a keyboard to a stringed instrument.
One of the earlier keyboard instruments was the clavichord, which at first had only twenty keys.
After the 15th century almost all the key-stringed instruments used the chromatic scale, as we find it in modern pianos. Keyboard size varied from instrument to instrument.
In the 18th century, a piano maker in Vienna built a concave-formed keyboard, convinced it would better serve the tendency of the human arm to move in a semicircle.
A piano maker in the 19th century designed a keyboard on which the semitones (our black keys) were the same color as the full tones, and were not raised. Thus, the keyboard we know today is the result of experimentation through the ages. As a pianist, I am grateful to have raised black keys and the full 88-key keyboard of today.
For further reading go to http://www.pianoworld.com/