New faces


I was absolutely blown away by the Scottish National Portrait Gallery – it’s a high quality collection that’s also well displayed in interesting groupings that also gives a nod to wider historical trends, eg a large gallery explaining the jacobite cause and the Stuart’s visual propaganda around this, another gallery on the Italian Grand Tour, a third in Victorian imperial expansion. Well worth a visit.


Paintings top to bottom:

Kathleen Raine by Victoria Crowe; Sir William Bruce by John William Wright; the Dalyells by Victoria Crowe; Sir George Seton and sons by Adam de Colone; Culloden quodlibet by Thomas Keyes; John Campbell by Charles Jervas; apartment of the Earl of Seaforth in Naples by Pierrot Fabris: Lady Charlotte Campbell by Johann Wilhelmina Tischben

Cross cultural

4E2984F5-3A8A-41F1-907E-78C49BEFB3AAA fascinating alternative image of James I, which was painted by one of the foremost Flemish artists of the time who had moved to Scotland. I find it really interesting how this image so clearly harks back to an older style of painting, and how different the king looks from his usual fleshy self.

Soery about the poor quality image, but it was hard to get a photo without big reflections/glare from the lights on it.

c.1595, Adrian Vanson; in the scottish National Portrait Gallery.

St Giles

St Giles is one of those saints who combines a mix of pre-Christian and Christian myths in their story (threatened death of a local deity’s sacred animal leading to the moral conversion of a local ruler’s heir), but as the adopted patron saint of lepers he was widely worshipped in medieval Europe, including Scotland. As such the cathedral in Edinburgh is dedicated to him and is a wam and welcoming space, very different from Westminster Abbey (see here for rant).


All photos August 2018

My life

I was eager to learn Italian and took lessons with a black-clad widow living in the Sixieme. Presently her teaching was supplemented by an Italian who picked me up in the Luxembourg gardens. His name was Alfio – “like Alph, the sacred river in “Kubla Khan”” – he explained. He was years older than me, very handsome, told me that he had been a Partisan, and did his best to seduce me. I liked him, but when I agreed to visit his flat things got out of hand and he kept shouting “Take off your knickers.” His English was excellent but I was not going to obey his orders and I made my escape. My progress in Italian stalled.

Claire Tomalin – My Life.

A fascinating read of a type of life open to middle class girls in post war Britain where you were expected to simultaneously have four children, be knowledgeable yet relaxed about your husband’s infidelities, gain an Oxbridge degree and be content typing letters for the odd Conservative MP or gossip column. Well written, not bitter but rather sad. Also worth reading for a mention of a scrambled egg party, luxury when rationing ended!

To us who bought oranges


My husband died in Rome, in the prison of Regina Coeli, a few months after we left the Abruzzi. Faced with the horror of his solitary death, and faced with the anguish which preceded his death, I ask myself if this happened to us – to us, who bought oranges at Giro’s and went for walks in th snow.

Natalia Ginzburg, “Winter In Abruzzi” (1944). Republished in the essay collection The Little Virtues, and reminiscent of “Maman, what are we called now?”

Retiring unexpectedly to a four room grotto

No one was ever known to refuse an invitation to Oatlands, though the first visit there must always astonish, and even dismay. The park was kept for the accommodation of macaws, monkeys, ostrichs; kangaroos; the stables were full of horses which were none of them obtainable for guests; the house swarmed with servants, none of whose business seemed to be to wait on guests; the hostess breakfasted at three in the morning…and was in the habit of retiring unexpectedly to a four-roomed grotto she had had made for herself in the park.


The Duchess of Suffolk was one of the many German princesses (Frederica of Prussia) called in to marry the sons of George III when the succession crisis became clear with the king’s madness. This portrait by Huet from 1803 is a witty nod tiaras the Duchess’ well known love of animals.