Easter Marks, Love, Hope and Renewal

An altar laid with a Chalice and Paten by the Sussex potters Eric Mellon and Josse Davies framed by a Victorian Arts and Crafts Alms dish for an Easter Communion

It is just over a year since the first lockdown began. There has been much to celebrate in the courage and generous offering of service to the vulnerable and elderly in our communities by the men and women of our NHS, our care and essential workers – often at great personal cost. Our scientists have blessed us with hope through their remarkable endeavours and vaccines.

Nevertheless our shared story of Covid-19 is one of joys and sorrows. Intimate stories of loss and separation have reminded us how precious love is.

Easter provides a poignant, liminal moment in the year marking love, hope and renewal.

This week millions of Christians will mark Holy Week. As they process towards Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection they will reflect on the words from St John’s gospel “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”.

I think it was The Revd Canon Dr Giles Fraser who said that “the Cross is the offer of love in exchange for hate, whatever the cost, whatever it takes. And that’s why the cross is the central image of Christianity. It’s the pivot on which the Christian narrative turns. A representation of love – absolutely not a celebration of death – even though death is sometimes the cost of love.”

These threads of love, hope and renewal are expressed in the Easter communion illustrated.

The cross is delicately portrayed in a universal way on the Chalice by the potter Eric Mellon, whilst the Arundel potter Josse Davies’ beautiful Paten depicts the Holy Spirit as a Dove within the Crown of Thorns.

The Victorian Arts and Crafts gilt-metal Alms dish, decorated after the Byzantine, is encrusted with semi-precious stones. It depicts Christ crucified surrounded by the apostles. Its inscription translates from the Greek as “Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you for the forgiveness of your sins”, the words spoken by Jesus as he gathered his friends at the Last Supper.

St Benedict held invitation and hospitality as being central to faith in his rule of life.

I know that amongst the things I have missed this year is being able to offer invitation and hospitality – welcoming people to my home, the auction rooms and church. Boris Johnson once again had to ask us to stay away from one another, a sign of our love for one another, to keep us and others safe. But now, with the advent of spring and Easter, we are once again able to gather in groups of six, or two separate households in our gardens, outdoors, and at church. There seems to be light at the end of the tunnel.

I hope that lockdown will continue to ease and you will join me in supporting our local businesses, theatres, museums, art galleries, churches and newspapers who add so richly to the life of our community.

Rembert Doedons, the Father of Botany

An early English translation of Rembert Dodoens’ Cruydeboeck, A Nievve Herball, or Historie of Plantes…, circa 1578 © Toovey’s 2021

Nature has often provided the inspiration and components of our most effective and radical medicines, even in our modern scientific age.

Rembert Dodoens (1517-1585) is often described as the father of botany.

From the 1530s Europe’s fascination with natural history grew leading to a botanical Renaissance.

In Tudor times herbs were used for their culinary, medicinal and strewing properties. Herbs would be strewn on the floors and surfaces of homes to deter insects and to disinfect, as well as for their fragrant qualities. From Medieval times, and no doubt before, herbs were associated with medicine, including in the monastic tradition

Rembert Dodoens was born Rembert Van Joenckema in Mechelen in 1517. At the time Mechelen was part of the Spanish Netherlands. Dodoens worked and travelled widely in Europe returning to his hometown in 1538 where he served as the town physician.

A physician and botanist, Dodoens’ beautifully illustrated Cruydeboeck (plant book) was first published in 1554. Dodoens divided the plant kingdom into six categories based on their properties. The work was published in the vernacular rather than Latin which heightened its popularity. In its various editions it became the most important botanical work of the late 16th century and the most translated book after the Bible.

In particular it dealt in detail with the medicinal properties of herbs. Many at that time would have seen it as a pharmacopoeia identifying plant-based compound medicines.

Dodoens’ Cruydeboeck was translated into English by the botanist and antiquary Henry Lyte (c.1529-1607) during Elizabeth I’s reign. Published under the title ‘A Nievve Herball, or Historie of Plantes: wherein is contained the whole discourse and perfect description of all sorts of Herbes and Plantes: their divers and sundry kindes, their strange Figures, Fashions, and Shapes…’ in 1578, the English version became a standard work and remained in use for some 200 years.

The early English translation illustrated, bound in later, early 20th century panelled calf binding, dates from 1578 and realised £3000 at Toovey’s.

In 1572 the Dutch population rose up against the Spanish occupation. Dodoens’ house was looted and burned. His reputation was such that the King of Spain, Philip II (1527-1598) invited him to become his personal physician. Dodoens instead chose to serve the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II (1527 1576) and his successor Rudolf II (1552-1612) as physician.

In 1582 Dodoens returned to the Netherlands where he took up the post of Professor of Medicine at the University of Leiden until he died in 1585.

Today we continue to explore the extraordinary possibilities of cures for diseases from and inspired by the natural world. There is still so much we do not understand more than 450 years after Dodoens wrote his Cruydeboeck. I hope the nations of the world will come together to protect the precious resource of the world’s forests and plants before they, their wonders and their blessings are lost to us.

The Important Example of a Mother’s Love

A Charles Vyse figure ‘The Tulip Woman’, circa 1921

For many across West Sussex Mothering Sunday is traditionally a day for gathering at church and with families, celebrating and giving thanks for mums and their love.

But once again last Sunday was no ordinary Mothering Sunday. With churches closed and Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plea not to visit our mums to keep them safe there was a real sense of heightened isolation in the face of COVID-19.

Nonetheless we are a resilient and hopeful people and love was shared across generations through Zoom, FaceTime and the like. The Church of England streamed its services – gathering us against the backdrop of the beautiful early spring weather which lifted our spirits despite the chilly wind.

At its best there is a particular strength and grace to a mother’s love for her children. Constant, abundant and selfless, a mother will strive to bless their children with freedom through boundaries. This generous, constant attention to the needs of others and self-discipline provides an important example to all of us in our current times.

There is a need for patience too. I’ll never forget how as children whenever we set out in the car my brothers, sisters and I would cry out in unison with the chorus of all children “Are we nearly there yet!” My Mother would usually reply in a weary and slightly despairing tone “No, not yet!”

The 14th century anchoress Julian of Norwich lived her whole life in Norwich. Close to death she experienced Christ in a series of visions born out of and in response to her prayers. She survived and wrote the earliest surviving book in the English language written by a woman titled Revelations of Divine Love. Julian famously speaks of Jesus Christ as mother when she describes the quality of his love for us.

I love the hope filled portrayals of mothers by the studio potter Charles Vyse. His depictions of street vendors and figures from the streets of London in the 1920s are influenced by his fellow artists from the Camberwell School of Art where he studied in 1912.

Charles Vyse married his wife Nell in 1911. They worked together producing sculptural figures from 1919 until 1940 when their Cheyne Walk studio in Chelsea was bombed out during the Blitz. They were intricately made often involving forty or more individual moulds taken from Vyse’s original clay models. Nell Vyse became adept at painting them. Her colour schemes were carefully chosen and varied so each figure is unique.

A Charles Vyse figure ‘The Madonna of World’s End Passage’, circa 1922

The Madonna of World’s End Passage and the Tulip Woman are particular favourites of mine. Both figures stare into the distance pondering things in their imaginations as they tenderly enfold their children in their arms. Vyse’s depictions of these mothers gifts them with a strength and nobility.

Love, like prayer, reaches across physical boundaries and shared stories of joys and sorrows bind families and communities together. As lockdown eases I hope that each of us, like a loving mother, will tend to one another – those close to us and those we meet along the way. If we do then our nation’s story will once again be strengthened and renewed by our acts of compassion, consideration, love and service to others.

The Art of Time

A Breguet Type 20 Chronograph steel cased gentleman’s wristwatch, circa 1971 © Toovey’s 2021

Over the millennia humankind has sought to record and measure time. Watches which can tell the time with exceptional accuracy can be bought for very little today and yet our enduring fascination with exquisitely engineered mechanical watches remains undiminished. Not only do these watches connect us with the present but they also link us with points of extraordinary human endeavour and adventure.

Breguet and Rolex remain two of the world’s most enduring brands. The art of time is given expression in the Breguet Type 20 and Rolex Submariner illustrated which realised £13,500 and £10,000 respectively at Toovey’s.

The great-great grandson of the founder of Breguet was Louis Charles Breguet (1880-1955). Louis was amongst the early pioneers of aviation building hydroplanes and warplanes used by the French during the First and Second World Wars.

After World War II the Breguet type 20 was one of the most popular watches for pilots.

Amongst the defining characteristics of a Type 20 chronograph is its black dial with two or three registers at 3, 6 and 9 o’clock that count up to 30 minutes. They have luminous hands and Arabic numerals, as well as Flyback function which stops, resets and restarts the chronograph with a single press of the lower button. They also have to be accurate within eight seconds per day.
In an age where we rely on satellites, even in our cars, it is hard to imagine the importance of timekeeping in flight navigation.

Since routes were determined by a series of navigational directions and flight times a pilot’s ability to precisely measure time intervals was vital.
In the 1970s Breguet began to produce a revised Type 20 wristwatch. The distinctive black dial with batten hands and luminescent numerals remained, though the case was made larger and a black anodised rotating bezel was introduced. The chronograph was powered by a Valjoux 725 calibre movement with two, or three counters as you see here.

Perhaps the most iconic of all diving watches is the Rolex Submariner. The idea was conceived in 1953 by Rolex board member and keen diver, René- Paul Jeanneret, who identified the potential for a diving watch which could also be worn every day. The French underwater explorer, Jacques Cousteau, invented the aqua-lung ten years earlier in 1943 and is said to have used a Rolex Submariner himself on occasions. His underwater adventures aboard the ship Calypso would be made famous by the BBC television series of the 1960s and 1970s.

Rolex diving watches have been design icons since their introduction in 1953. They were the first diving watches to be waterproof to 330 feet. Early and rare examples of Rolex Submariners can command five and six figure sums at auction. The stainless steel cased Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner illustrated with its leather strap dates from 1964.

We have a fascination with handmade watches and chronographs and value them far more highly than homogenous, mass produced timepieces. Interest, demand and prices continue to rise in this evocative field of collecting.

A New Minimalism Expressed in English Country House Taste

A beautiful Sussex Dining Room in the English Country House Taste

I have to own that I much prefer a rich layered interior in the English Country House Taste to the austerity of modern minimalism. There is such a joy in an eclectic mixture of objects which speak of our place in the procession of history and of our own stories – objects which reflect the patchwork quilt of our lives.
The Sussex Dining Room you see here gives voice to that English Country House Taste. The first spring sunlight reflects on the Dutch display cabinet’s glass panels as it gives life to the silver-plated, flower filled wine-cooler of Campana Urn form and the pair of candelabrum with their glass spear drops.

A Chinese blue and white bowl and a polychrome enamel dish decorated with scattered flowers rest on top of the Dutch walnut display cabinet. Both date from the mid-17th/early 18th century Kangxi period when the Dutch and the British East India Company competed for trade in the Far East. As a curator at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam once remarked to me with a wry grin “The Dutch and the English – keeping it sharp”. The Chinese pieces are flanked by two earthenware Dutch Delft tin glazed blue and white vases.

There is a delight to a display cabinet. Curated objects jostle for attention and compliment one another. The alcove cabinet with its crisp painted white gloss and Regency blue interior frames the eclectic mixture of porcelain: figures in the 18th century taste, a Royal Crown Derby vase, a Dresden bottle vase decorated with summer flowers and a Chinese Qianlong period famille rose teapot with a silver handle.

There is nothing new in these scenes except the artistic composition of furniture and objects arranged like pieces in a painting.

Here is minimalism at its height. Not the austerity of throwaway contemporary minimalism driven by fashion, but a minimalist approach to how we walk in the world.

Everything you see in this room is personal and beautiful. The quality of manufacture and design honours the finite and precious materials from which these things were made. They have already delighted many generations and they will continue to delight and serve generations to come too.

These pieces and the interiors they create are not bland or homogenous but unique, allowing us to give expression to who we are. The comfortable, inclusive and timeless taste of the English country house is once again on the rise.

Perhaps, rather than being herded into uniformity, we might embrace a new minimalism which English Country House Taste gives expression to. It allows us to speak of who we are; embracing antique and vintage pieces to create generous, gathering homes whilst treading lightly on the world.