January 07, 2003

Holiday Reading

I like the remark attributed to Robert Proust about his brother's masterpiece: the sad thing is that people have to be very ill or have broken a leg in order to have the opportunity to read 'In Search of Lost Time'. It is true that I've made my best progress through the book on idle vacation days, when empty hours couple together like vacant railway carriages into long, static trains of time yawning to be filled.

Heartened by my rapid progress through the the second half of The Guermantes Way, I opted to plough direcly into Sodom and Gomorrah, which I found very little trouble to get through, enjoying the first half in particular, which continued the narration of Marcel's entry into Parisian high society. By the end of Christmas week, I'd finished that too, and now I find myself fifty pages or so into The Prisoner (aka The Captive), the first part of volume five.

* * *

Amongst my other vacation reading was a heavy art-book I'd bought back in the summer, but which had since been lying at the base of a stack of other volumes: Rudolf II and Prague: the Court and the City. This is a catalogue of a grand exhibition staged in Prague in 1997, part of a broader festival which celebrated 'the reign of this enlightened and eccentric Habsburg ruler (1552-1612), and the kaleidoscope of talents he assembled at his court.' Numerous other books had collectively nudged my interest in the direction of Rudolfine Prague, with the marvellous monograph about Giuseppe Archimboldo I picked up in Rome last February having provided the final shove.

One of the most fascinating, to my eyes, of the artworks discussed in the book is an illustrated manuscript entitled Mira Calligraphiae Monumenta, a collaboration of sorts between the Croatian calligrapher Georg Bocksay and the Flemish miniaturist and illustrator Joris Hoefnagel. Bocksay, a virtuoso penman, had been commissioned to compile what amounted to a very elaborate calligraphy sampler by his patron, Emperor Ferdinand I. Thirty years later, Ferdinand's grandson (Rudolf II), asked Hoefnagel to illuminate the manuscript, a task he executed to outstandingly beautiful effect:

Fly, Moth, Caterpillar, Pear

Maltese Cross

Trompe-l'Oeil Stem (reverse of previous page)

Dragonfly, Common Pear


Hoefnagel also appended an abecedarium to the original manuscript, a series of pages on the design, proportion and construction of the alphabetical characters:

The manuscript is now in the possession of the Getty museum, who have also published a complete facsimile of the book with an accompanying commentary.

* * *

My last item of holiday reading, which I've still not quite finished: Haruki Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.

Posted by misteraitch at January 7, 2003 11:21 AM