Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Illustration Friday- Primitive- Platypus

Platypuses [Ornithorhynchus anatinus ] are primitive mammals belonging to the group called the Monotremes - egg-laying mammals. The monotremes comprise of the platypus and various kinds of echidnas.

Platypuses are interesting animals and they were originally thought to have been a made-up traveller's tale - people could not believe that a mammal that swam like a beaver , had a beak like a duck, laid eggs and had a poisonous claw could really exist. At the time it was popular for carnival side shows to display things like 'mermaids' made from a taxidermied baby monkey and a large fish tail so this reaction is quite understandable.

The platypus is sometimes called a duck mole but the beak is not like a bird's bill- its a sensitive, rubbery appendage used to search the muddy bottom of streams for food such as crayfish and snails.

Platypuses are good swimmers but are quite clumsy on land, They close their eyes , ears and nostrils when they dive and they even mate whilst in the water.

The females dig long tunnels in the river banks and create a nest of leaves and grass in order to lay the eggs.

Platypus eggs are thought to be held within the females for a while and nourished before being laid. The female playtpus incubates the eggs , usually two at a time, by placing them on her belly hair and covering them with her tail.

The eggs aren't like bird eggs - they are closer to reptile eggs as the shell is soft. Its not fully known how long the babies remain in the eggs but its estimated to be about 10 days.

After the young emerge, they are fed on their mothers milk which oozes from specialised pores on her belly - platypuses are unusual mammals because they do not have defined nipples.

This is an illustration of the female platypus in her nest with her twin eggs snuggled into her belly hair. It took a long time to get the platypus looking the way i wanted- partly because reference material for platypus nurseries is not readily available and partly because platypuses are such strange looking creatures that its easy to make them look even weirder. The grass of the nest took a long time to paint too as i was starting to get really obsessive about the celtic-knotwork effect of the interwoven grass.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Photo Friday- Cold

When we visited Casterino in the Alps, i took lots of photos - here are a couple I didn't post to the blog earlier.

I liked the contrast between the strangely shaped icicle and the grain of the wood behind it.

This is a photo of my son with a large star shaped snowflake caught in his hair. I just had enough time to quickly take the photo before the snowflake melted.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Monastery at Cimiez

Cimiez Monastery [Monastère de Cimiez ] is close to the remains of the Roman town of Cemelenum, the archaeological museum and the Matisse museum. I think its worth visiting, though its not as well known as the other places, I mentioned.

The church is called, Our Lady of the Assumption [Notre-Dame de l'Assomption] and dates to the 15th century. However, the original monastery and church complex was founded by the Benedictine monks in the 9th century.

The Franciscans took over the monastery in 1546 and have occupied the site since then. There is a museum about the Franciscan order at the monastery but it wasn't open the day we visited since it was Sunday.

The interior of the church has some interesting carvings and three 15th century paintings by a well known local artist called Louis [or Ludovico] Bréa ,who seemed to specialise in religious art.
One of the old Trompe-l'œil painted door surrounds. A lot of the church exterior decoration was actually painted trompe-l'œil rather than carved stone and glass.
This is the 16th century cloister and part of the Franciscan monastery adjacent to the church - the monastery is still in active use. This is one of the Franciscan monks chatting to a couple of visitors.

The monastery gardens are large and impressive, though we visited at the wrong time of year to see the roses in full bloom. I expect we will go back to see the gardens in summer and also to visit the nearby cemetery where Henri Matisse and Raoul Duffy are buried.
The sunken garden was laid out in geometric flower beds and was a peaceful place to sit and meditate.

Unfortunately , when we were visiting a small dog fell off the surrounding wall into the sunken garden - luckily it landed in a recently dug flower bed but there was quite a panic until the owner checked the dog over for injuries.
I loved the interference patterns made by the water falling from the fountains.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Illustration Friday- Save - Caterina Ségurana

I couldn't decide what to paint for the Illustration Friday topic "save' to start with. I was going to do something along the lines of bees storing honey or maybe squirrels hiding nuts but I really wanted to do something more dramatic.

My next idea was to do something with Grace Darling , the English woman who became famous for rescuing people from a shipwreck when the sea was too rough to launch a lifeboat.
Grace helped her lighthouse keeper father row a small boat called a coble out to the wreck and 9 people were rescued.
I was still thinking about the Grace Darling idea when I came across the monument dedicated to one of the local heroines from Nice which made me change my mind.

Her name is Catarina Ségurana in Nissart, the local Nice language, and Catherine Ségurane in French.

Catarina Ségurana was a local washerwoman [bugadiera or lavandière] at a time when washing was done by hand in rivers and streams or publicplaces with very basic facilities called lavoirs .

Lavoirs are generally covered areas with a communal trough with a diverted stream or water running through the centre. Some have facilities to burn wood to provide the cinders which were added to the wash to whiten and de-grease it. This is a public lavoir from the village of Le Broc.

Rich people employed the washerwomen to do the work because it was both exhausting and time consuming. The washing had to be pounded and soaked and rinsed , washed again and then laid out to dry in the sun.

Washerwomen had rough calloused hands due to the constant immersion in waster and exposure to the poor quality washing soaps and lye derived from the cinders.

I already knew the basics of Catarina Ségurana's story and knew that there was controversy about her importance and whether or not she really existed.

Many guidebooks report that Catarina Ségurana was a semi-legendary heroine famous from scaring away the Franco-Turkish enemy during the Siege of Nice in 1543. Often, her method of repelling the enemy is given as 'showing off her ample bare buttocks' [mooning] Mooning and mocking the enemy by exposing oneself does have a long history but this doesn't seem to be Catarina Ségurana's real story.

Instead, Catarina Ségurana inspired the Niçois when she seized one of the Turkish flags after whacking the standard bearer with her battoir [linen beater ] -a kind of wooden paddle she would have use to beat the cloth as she washed it. During the struggle with the standard bearer , local legend adds that Catarina's 'hidden parts' were exposed and this was perceived as an additional indignity for the invaders.
Later on in the seige , two more Turkish standards were seized and this destroyed the morale of the invading troops.

Catarina Ségurana's bravery is honoured by the city of Nice each year in a ceremony on the 25th of November when a wreath is placed on her monument.

My illustration depicts Catarina Ségurana holding her wooden battoir [linen beater] with the captured Turkish flag in the background.

Photo Friday - far from home.

Queen Victoria's Royal Coat of Arms seems an unusual find in the middle of Nice, France. The lion and unicorn support the shield which features the three lions passant guardant of England quartered with the lion rampant of Scotland and the harp of Ireland.

The church where the arms are displayed is a typical English Anglican church and most definitely 'far from home'.

The Holy Trinity Anglican church is in Rue de la Buffa, in the heart of Nice and apparently has regular services in English all year round.

The stained glass altar windows here date to the 1920s

Queen Victoria apparently only worshipped at the church on her first visit to Nice. On subsequent visits , church services were performed in her hotel in the district of Cimiez which is north of Nice centre.

The stained glass windows and some of the paintings are Pre-Raphaelite inspired so its well worth making a detour to see -and very different from the traditional Nicois churches around Nice.

The Anglo-American Library is based in the one of the church hall rooms , which is why I ended up visiting the graveyard and church grounds on a regular basis.

The graveyard has graves from about 1830 onwards till around the first world war -there are probably about 50 graves in evidence now , though at one time the graveyard was considerably larger. Apparently the land was sold off to property developers who built the adjacent shops and high-rise apartments.

I'm not sure what happened to the graves and remains that were displaced -I'll need to check up on that next time I'm at the library.

There are some interesting statues and gravestones, including a couple of memento mori skull and bones.

One particularly moving epitaph tells of a 19year old Scottish boy who tried to rescue his parents as they were swept away crossing a 'river in torrent' near San Remo in Italy [ further down the coast]. The parents survived but the boy's body was never recovered , so the stone marks and empty grave.

I think a lot of people mistake this cherub grave marker for the grave of the hymn composer Henry Francis Lyte [author of Abide with Me] because the signs are misaligned . His real gravestone is quite plain.

Like many of the people buried in the graveyard, Henry Francis Lyte died of consumption [tuberculosis] . People suffering from lung diseases such as TB used to travel from the damp north of Europe to the sunny Mediterranean [especially Nice] in the hope of breathing more easily and living longer.