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.