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A Room Of One’s Own

Shakespeare’s England travels forward in time in this post, to visit two historic and literary properties in Sussex. One dates from the seventeenth century, and one contains a unique Shakespeare collection, so I hope you’ll permit the deviation.

Today, armed with my trusty National Art Pass, a friend and I set out for an afternoon of Bloomsbury loveliness. The Art Pass is an excellent way of saving money AND contributing to the preservation and exhibition of the arts in the UK. It entitles the holder to free and discounted entry to many museums, art galleries, exhibitions, and historic houses. Single membership costs £53 a year. Find out more here.

Our first stop, and free entry for me with my Art Pass, was Charleston Farmhouse, situated in the rolling Sussex countryside not far from Lewes. Charleston was home to the artist Vanessa Bell and her partner Duncan Grant. They initially rented the house in 1916 to escape London during World War One, but they gradually fell in love with Sussex and relocated to Charleston permanently. The house, which dates back to the 1690s, is an eclectic cornucopia of Bloomsbury art. Inspired by French Impressionism, the couple and their Bloomsbury friends designed and painted the walls, furniture, curtains, and even the bathroom in bold geometric patterns, flowers, acrobats, and Greek gods. Charleston has had many famous house guests including Lytton Strachey, E M Forster, and the economist Maynard Keynes, who had a bedroom set aside for him in which he wrote for lengthy periods. Vanessa Bell’s sister, Virginia Woolf, was, naturally, a regular visitor. The house also has a large collection of paintings, including works by Renoir, Picasso, Derain, Matthew Smith, Sickert, Tomlin and Eugène Delacroix.

To find out more or to visit Charleston, and to view photographs of the interior, visit the website here

 

Door Knocker, Charleston

 

Our next stop was Monk’s House in Rodmell, just a few miles down the road from Charleston. Monk’s House was the retreat of Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard. Unfortunately it does not as yet permit free entry with an Arts Pass, but I was happy to pay the entry fee since I’d saved so much money at Charleston. The interior of Monk’s House is similar in style to that of Charleston, although it has a calmer, less chaotic feel. Fortunately, unlike at Charleston, photography was allowed, so I did my best to capture the bohemian interior of the house. To find out more about visiting Monk’s House visit the website here.

Below are photos of both houses. I’m no photographer and almost all of these were snapped with my iPhone, but they should give a sense of both houses and perhaps even tempt a few people to visit. And if history is your thing, you might like to visit the wonderful new Pompeii and Herculaneum exhibition at the British Museum this summer. Arts Pass holders save 50% on the entry price!

 

Vanessa Bell’s Bedroom, Charleston

 
 

Charleston

 
 

Charleston

 
 

Charleston

 
 

Charleston

 
 

Monk’s House

 
 

Monk’s House

 
 

Monk’s House

 
 

 Monk’s House

 
 

Monk’s House

 
 

Monk’s House

 
 

Monk’s House

 
 

Monk’s House

 
 

 Virginia’s bedroom

 
 

 Virginia’s bedroom

 
 

Chair in which Virginia wrote when it was too cold for the summer house

 
 

 Virginia’s personal Shakespeare Collection, with Bloomsbury dust covers

 
 

 Virginia’s Shakespeare Collection with her hand-written spines

 
 

 
 

Monk’s House, garden

 
 

Monk’s House

 
 

 Virginia’s writing desk in the summer house,

 
 

 Bronze marking the place where Virginia’s ashes are buried, beneath a Magnolia tree

 
 

Monk’s House

 
 

Art Medicine

Muscles, As they appear in Humane Body

These images come from a book published in the 1680s entitled A Complete Treatise of the Muscles.

Art Biography Court Love

The sight of this mansion creates sorrowing sighs

As regular visitors to Fragments will know, I’ve recently returned from a tour of 17th century India. Taking in the forts, mosques, temples and buildings of mogul Rajasthan brought new layers of meaning to my research into early modern England.  For example, every day goods such as cloves, pepper and nutmeg, and fabrics like silk and calico, were finding their way into the homes of Shakespeare’s London via the East India Company, which was founded in 1600 and given a royal charter by Elizabeth I.  That trade links between England and the Indian sub-continent had been established so early came as something of a surprise to me, and as I delved a little deeper, by way of a little bookshop in Jaipur, in which I spent embarrassingly large amounts of rupees, one name in particular came to the fore again and again. The 17th century mogul emperor Shah Jahan. I became quite fascinated by Shah Jahan, quizzing the Indian historians I met over Kingfisher beers late at night, and poring over accounts of his building works as well as his love life.  His name will no doubt be unfamiliar to many, but his achievements certainly will not. It was Shah Jahan who oversaw the construction of the Taj Mahal, one of the seven wonders of the world, and possibly the most beautiful building on earth.  I visited the Taj Mahal on Independence Day, which somehow lent the occasion a certain gravity.  I was both awe-inspired, and humbled, and the story behind this most famous of monuments is as enduring as the building itself.

Shah Jahan (1592-1666), became the fifth Mogul ruler of Rajasthan when he succeeded his father, Jahangir, in 1628. Born in Lahore, Prince Shihab-ud-din Muhammad Khurram came to the throne at the age of thirty-five. He was a clever and intelligent, and had already impressed many with his flair for building works, having enlarged the fort at Agra, home of the then royal court, at the age of 16. In 1607, he became engaged to Arjumand Banu Begum, the daughter of a Persian noble.  The legend goes that their eyes met in the marketplace and it was love at first sight. After the wedding, Khurram nicknamed his wife Jewel of the Palace, or Mumtaz Mahal.

Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan 

On Khurram’s accession to the throne, the court at Agra, which he preferred to that at Delhi, was greatly expanded. He built public and private audience halls, a residential hall known as the Court of the Grapes overlooking the river, and a congregational mosque known as the Pearl Mosque.   In 1638 Jahan moved the court from Agra to Delhi, forming a new city known as Shahjahanabad.  Its design was undertaken by Ahmed Lahwari, the chief architect of the Taj Mahal.  This walled city included water courses, homes for the nobility, mosques, gardens, and a fortified palace known as the Red Fort.

Red Fort at Delhi

During their marriage, Mumtaz and Shah Jahan were inseparable.  She was not his only wife; he married two other women during his reign, but his relationships with these wives was said to be nothing more than ceremonial. Mumtaz was the true love of his life. But while on campaign with her husband in 1631, she died giving birth to their fourteenth child.  Khurram was utterly grief-stricken. It is said he ordered his court into a period of mourning from which he emerged white-haired and broken.  Rumours abound that Mumtaz, on her deathbed, demanded that Khurram build her a lasting monument, a building unrivalled throughout the world, in order to demonstrate his love for her.  Whatever the truth, Shah Jahan began construction of a mausoleum for Mumtaz in 1632 on the banks of the river Yamuna in Agra.  ‘He intends it shall excel all other,’ wrote an East India employee travelling through Agra in the 1630s. ‘The building goes on with excessive labour and cost, prosecuted with extraordinary diligence, gold and silver [being] esteemed common metall and marble as ordinarie stone.’

The design of the Taj Mahal is purely Islamic.  It is said to represent the image of the Throne of God; the marble dome which sits over Mumtaz’s tomb is 35 metres high, and the four minarets set at each of the four corners are over 40 metres high.  Earlier buildings overseen by Shah Jahan were constructed from red sandstone, but the Taj Mahal was built entirely from white marble, inlaid with semi-precious stones.  As a Muslim tomb, pictorial representations were strictly forbidden, so in addition to the exquisite patterns laid into the marble, verses from the Koran decorate and adorn the building.   The Taj Mahal was completed in 1643 and was instantly considered a masterpiece.

In 1657, Khurram’s son, Aurangzeb, seized power and imprisoned his father in the fort at Agra with a small retinue.  Now in poor health, and under house arrest, Shah Jahan spent the remainder of his days in a small suite of rooms which overlooked the river and his monument to Mumtaz.

 Shah Jahan’s rooms at Agra Fort
View of the Taj Mahal from Agra Fort

It is said that Khurram planned to build a mirror monument to himself in black marble across the river from the Taj Mahal, but this claim has yet to be substantiated. He said of his wife’s tomb:

Should guilty seek asylum here,
Like one pardoned, he becomes free from sin.
Should a sinner make his way to this mansion,
All his past sins are to be washed away.
The sight of this mansion creates sorrowing sighs;
And the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes.
In this world this edifice has been made;
To display thereby the creator’s glory.

On his deathbed in 1666, Shah Jahan reportedly kept his eyes fixed firmly on the Taj Mahal. After his death he was buried alongside his beloved Mumtaz in the dazzling building he had erected in her memory.


Sources for this post are largely confined to the many people I spoke to in India. However some biographical information and other details comes from John Keay’s authoratitive India: A History, Harper Collins, India (2004).
© 2009-2014 All Rights Reserved
Art Arte of Gardening Biography Books Crime Curiosities Medicine Music Poetry Shakespeare

Carnivalesque 64

Fragments is very pleased to be hosting the 64th edition of Early Modern Carnivalesque, a gathering of some of the most interesting blog posts from the early modern blogging community.

First up we have the fate of the Wedgewood Museum over at the award-winning Georgian London. Lucy Inglis considers the plight of the Wedgewood Collection, and its formation under artisan Josiah Wedgewood, who died in 1725.

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From the decorative arts, to art of a very different nature, Caroline Rance at The Quack Doctor explores the unusual medicinal practise of diagnosis via urine from 1815.

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Taking a detour from urine to royalty, Nick, at Mercurius Politicus, reveals some intriguing royalist graffiti in Cheam.

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Odd fellows from Roy, at Early Modern Whale, who takes a look at the early modern Fortune Teller.

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‘My appetite is sick for want of a capacity to digest your favours.’ Women in Medieval and Early Modern History offer up some extraordinary early modern chat up lines.
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Once you’ve wooed your beloved, you might like to make them a John Evelyn salad. The Gentleman Administrator reveals all you need to know.

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The World Cup may be over, but the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust have devised a means to keep your interest alive. Iago is in mid-field in Shakespeare’s Fantasy Football

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From Iago to a villain of a different kind, Executed Today examines the hanging of pirate John Quelch.    
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Speaking of villains, cartoonist Ade Teal kindly provides us with caricatures of two early modern rogues:



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On the other side of the Atlantic, Warren, artistic director of early modern music ensemble Magnificat, recently visited Spain, and reports back on the 18th century composer Martini’s enormous collection of music manuscripts and partbooks  

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More printing, this time from the Two Nerdy History Girls, who witnessed the early modern printing process in action.
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Sally, over at Travels and Travails in Eighteenth Century England, has been exploring medicinal recipes, including the Lady Puckring’s salve for sore brests.
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From sore breasts to slippery weather, Emily at The Artist’s Progress reveals the history of early modern caricature.
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Art of a different nature from the engraver Mr Read, who entertains with more spectral escapades at The Cogitations of Read.

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And Ben, at Res Obscura, has been getting to grips with some 17th century  apothecary poetry.

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Finally, here at Fragments, I’ve been exploring the last will and testament of Mr William Shakespeare, gent. 

If you’re interested in finding out more about Carnivalesque, or would like to be a host, contact the lovely Sharon at Early Modern Web
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