Friday, December 17, 2010

The head of Henri IV and why the kids approved of stamp collecting for once

We were having dinner and talked about the head of Henri IV that has been found.
"Where have they found it? " one of our kids asked.
"In a private collection.", I answered.
"You mean, someone collects old heads?".
"Yes, you can be lucky I only collect stamps", and for once they were happy I was collecting just stamps.

Nevertheless, I have my own collection of Henri IV heads.  

In case you have not heard, a team of scientists say they have positively identified an embalmed head, presumed lost in the chaos of the French Revolution, as that of King Henri IV of France who was assassinated in 1610. This is a big deal in France.

The head was lost after revolutionaries desecrated the graves of French kings in the royal basilica of Saint-Denis near Paris in 1793.

A team of experts using advanced scientific techniques say they have conclusively identified the head,
passed down over the centuries by private collectors, as that of the monarch.

The multi-disciplinary team announced the discovery in the British Medical Journal. Features consistent with those of the king's face were found including "a dark mushroom-like lesion" near the right nostril, a healed facial stab wound and a pierced right earlobe. The king is known to have sported an earring, along with others from the Valois court. Many features matched those in portraits of the king. Charlier said three "cutting wounds" were also visible, corresponding to the separation of the head from the body by a revolutionary in 1793.

A digital facial reconstruction of the skull was fully consistent with all known representations of the king and the plaster mold of his face made just after his death.

Henri IV was one of the most popular French kings, known as "the good King Henry".

In 1598, nine years after ascending the throne, he enacted the Edict of Nantes which guaranteed religious
liberties to Protestants and brought to a close over 30 years of fighting between French Protestants and Catholics.

He was assassinated in Paris at the age of 57 by Catholic fanatic Francois Ravaillac.

The head will be buried next year in the Basilica of Saint-Denis.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Santons de Provence

This weekend I went to a santon market in Aubagne, in the South of France.

Santons (Provençal: "santoun," or "little saint") are small (2.5-15 cm.) hand-painted, terracotta nativity scene figurines produced in the Provence region of southeastern France. In a traditional Provençal crèche, there are 55 individual figures representing various characters from Provençal village life such as the scissors grinder, the fishwife, the blind man, and the chestnut seller.

The first santons were created by Marseillais artisan Jean-Louis Lagnel (1764-1822) during the French Revolution when churches were forcibly closed and their large nativity scenes prohibited.

Lagnel crafted small clay figurines in plaster molds and let them dry before firing them. A maker of santons is a santonnier and the creation of santons today is essentially a family craft, handed down from parents to children. Santons are fashioned in two halves, pressed together and fused.

Hats, baskets, and other accessories are applied with an adhesive. When the figure is completely dry, it is given a gelatin bath in order to harden the figure further and to provide a surface for the application of pigments.

Faces are painted first, then hair, clothing and accessories. There are two types of santons: santons d'argile (clay figures) and doll-like santons habillé (clothed figures).

Since 1803, santonniers have gathered in Marseille each December to display and sell their wares at the Foire des Santonniers.

Aubagne holds a two-day fair, Biennale de l'Art Santonnier, and the Musée du Santon in Marseille exhibits a private collection of 18th and 19th century santons.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Roses for Romania

I am showing these rose covers from Sweden, for the blogger Laszlo from Romania.

See his blog on roses on stamps on

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Canoe Races on the Senegal

I thought of Senegal as a country, which it is. But it is also a river. The Senegal River, or Sénégal Fleuve, considered a sweet water river, is a 1,790 km (1,110 mi) long river in West Africa, that forms the border between Senegal and Mauritania.

Two stamps with the same design were issued in 1970 by Guinea. The design shows a map of Africa with four countries shaded in color: Mali-green, Mauritania-blue, Senegal-yellow and Guinea-red.
The stamps commemorate the meeting of representatives of the countries bordering on the Senegal river, the OERS, "Organisation Etats Riverains du Senegal".

This is a more detailed map, that shows the Senegal River.

  I am describing this, so you can situate the stamp that shows a canoe race on the Senegal.

It is quite a facinating event.  There are plenty of stamps on the subject. I also found some old postcards with the canoes or "pirogues".  I am showing some here. Click on the pictures and you will see them bigger.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Le Violon Rouge, Dufy

Raoul Dufy (1877 – 1953) was a French Fauvist painter. He developed a colorful, decorative style that became fashionable for designs of ceramics and textiles, as well as decorative schemes for public buildings.

This stamp was issued in France, engraving by Pierre Gandon. There were 7,275 of these stamps issued between November 1965 and September 1966.

Another painting shows the same subject, but was not made into a stamp as far as I know.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Letter to Yehudi Menuhin, 1934

I do not recall where and when I bought this letter to the famous violist Yehudi Menuhin, but I do not regret it.

Posted in May 1934 from Stockholm, addressed to his attention c/o Harold Holt in London.

Harold Holt Ltd was founded in 1876 by Alfred Schultz Curtius, who was the first impresario to bring Richard Wagner's music to the London public. The company became renowned for its presentations in the latter part of the 19th Century and into the 20th Century, with South African-born Harold Holt taking over in the 1930s. Some legendary presentations at the Royal Albert Hall included the Berliner Philharmoniker, Fürtwangler and ......Menuhin.

Yehudi Menuhin was born in 1916, so in 1934 he was only 18 years old.

Now, we see that the letter was forwarded to Villa "Les Fauvettes", an address in France.

In fact, his family had rented the mansion for some years, till 1935, of the familiy Vian at 33 rue Pradier.  The young Yehudi wrote about the villa "it was a real home, spacious and elegant in its way like a little suburb of Trianon."

Yehudi was already confirmed a soloist and his sister, a talented pianist ... Many gifted visitors stayed in the house in Ville d'Avray.

This is a piece of music from 1934, Yehudi playing  the Paganini Violin concerto no.1, Cadenza

When living in the Villa "Les Fauvettes", the young Yehudi was befriended with the equally young Boris Vian, son of the owner of the Villa, who resided in a small cottage on the grounds of the villa. Boris Vian became famous in his own rights, as witer and jazz musician.

Christian Vancau offers a lot of detail on the Vian family, the Villa and the Menuhin connection on his blog

Mr. Vancau, former President of the Yehudi Menuhin Association in Brussels, gracefully allowed me to share some photos with you:  Yehudi and Boris playing chess, the Villa and Yehudi and Boris on the steps of the Villa.

I learned a lot just by finding out more about this cover!

The constraints of his life as an international artist and the rise of Nazism in Germany prompted the Menuhin family to take refuge in the United States. In 1935 they left this wonderful place.

The Villa still exists

And this is the back of the cover, does not give away a lot!  

Sunday, October 31, 2010



by William Carlos Williams, According to Brueghel

when Icarus fell
it was spring
a farmer was ploughing
his field

the whole pageantry
of the year was
awake tingling

the edge of the sea
with itself

sweating in the sun
that melted
the wings' wax

off the coast
there was
a splash quite unnoticed
it was
Icarus drowning.

Icarus is found on some stamps, I show a few here (click on the picture and you may see it in a bigger format). The stamp above representing the painting of Breugel somewhat misses the point: you see the farmer, but Icarus drowning is in the left corner of the painting, it fell off the stamp.

These above are 1924 Hungarian air mail stamps.


The Chagal representation is fundamentally different then the Breugel: here people look what happens and they witness the drama of the free fall, whereas Breugel shows that the world goes on, nobody is watching or perhaps even caring for the fallen man.