Joanna Evans

Well, our Project will soon be coming to fruition.  Going to be exciting to discover what we have all come up with after two years of experimentation and research.
Recently, that is for the last five or six months, I have really expanded my mono-printing processes.  In the beginning I had made quite small studies of healing dogs, elements from the Porpora and wild plants, (healing and poisonous). Different compositions of these have gradually been getting bigger all the while.

There have been technical difficulties along the way, especially with the very large Perspex sheets;  however, I have managed, in the main, to resolve these problems by finding a plan B most times – being inventive and flexible.

The challenge was pretty scary to begin with, and maybe I did not  achieve a mono-print quite as wide as I had anticipated; nevertheless, I haven’t done too badly, considering that some of them are roughly the size of my cabin door.

It has all been quite cathartic I feel, forcing oneself to create ambitious work and to stretch one’s imagination to ever increasing heights.

A Journey of Discovery.

On the 4th August I decided to make a monotone A1 brush drawing of the Porpora painting – ‘Still-life with a Snake, Frogs, Tortoise and Lizard’,  as a means of analising the work, bit by bit.

The rationale for this was to try and dig deeper into the meaning of this work, and, maybe discover something about Paolo Porpora himself along the way.

Paolo Porpora. Still Life with a Snake, Frogs and a Tortoise 

Oil on canvas, 52.3 x 95.2 cm 

Collection: Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

I came  to realise that, far from being a still-life, as the title suggests, this painting could be a ‘memento mori’.  (the Latin for ‘remember you must die’). At first I wondered how Porpora had achieved the vivacity and movement of these reptiles in his painting – I did not think from taxidermy.  Then, by chance, I came across a work, almost identical in composition and subject matter, to a Porpora, that I could hardly believe that it was painted by another artist – a Netherlander with the unlikely name of Otto Marseus van Shriek!

Otto Marseus van Schrieck. Still Life with Poppy, Insects, and Reptiles, ca 1670
Collection The Metropolitan Museum of Art "" 

Initially there was not much information available on Porpora, other than – born in Naples in 1617, known as Paolo dei Fiori (flowers)  a painter of still lifes and travelled to and fro between Rome and the Netherlands in the mid 17th century.  

I am convinced that these two artists – Paolo and Otto, must have been acquainted. Upon researching van Shrieck it seems that he had a walled piece of land on which he kept a collection of live reptiles.  It is possible that Porpora was able to draw and study these reptiles – either that, or it gave him the idea of keeping some of his own in Rome.

The reason I think this painting is about death is that the animals are deadly to each other, for example ‘ the snake is the enemy of the toad,’ some lizards are venomous (this one certainly looks very menacing!) – the toad is in the act of eating the butterfly, which is an emblem of life. An omnivorous tortoise will take insects. The fungi appear to be Death Caps and Yellow Staining Mushrooms, both deadly. Even the plants in the painting are poisonous, or symbolic of death:
Chrysanthemums – I Crisantemi, are emblematic of death in Italy. 

On November the 2nd, ‘the Day of the Dead’ (all Souls’ Day), people often visit the graves of relatives and friends and leave chrysanthemums;  and the huge leaves with small yellow flowers, oddly, seem to be tomato plants (gelsemium sempervivens. Gelsemium being a version of the word Gelsomino, the Italian  word for Jasmine. Tomatoes belong to the Nightshade family – poisonous alkaloids are found in the nectar and leaves, namely Tomatine and Solanine.

On the Scriptorium website it is stated: “by the 16th Century the use of poison had become a high art of sorts. Several cities in Italy, including Venice and Rome, served as the home for schools that were dedicated to teaching the ways of poison.”

Some interesting information on Porpora, recently popped up out of the blue. There were some articles in the Guardian and Telegraph, etc. concerning a Taiwanese schoolboy on a visit to a Leonardo exhibition. This boy tripped and damaged a Paolo Porpora painting in the Taipei Huashan 19 Creative Arts Centre, on the 25th August, 2015.

In the midst of all this publicity for Porpora there was a useful ‘gem’ – that he worked in Rome for the Chigi family, who, it seems, were a very rich and influential family connected to the Popes of those times. There is a mass of information on the history of the Chigi family, covering several generations. This begs the question (to me) – could the Chigis have commissioned this ‘memento mori’  from Paolo Porpora?

Just discovered more information on Otto van Shriek (1):
Born 1613 in Nijmegen – was a painter in the Dutch Golden Age. Best known for his paintings of Forest, Flora and Fauna. Spent the years 1652 – 1657 in Rome and Florence, worked at the court of the Grand Duke of Tuscany and travelled throughout England and France.
There is a biography of Otto van Shrieck written by Arnold Houbraken (2), in which it is mentioned that he was called the Snuffelaer or Sniffer because he was always sniffing strange Lizards and Snakes!

Another article on van Shrieck revealed that, upon arrival in Rome, he had joined the Bentvueghels (Dutch for Birds of a Feather), which was a society that allegedly promoted the Arts of that time; they dressed in Robes at their meetings and their members were all given nicknames, hence Snuffelaer. Van Shrieck also joined the Accademia di San Luca (Accademy of St. Luke), of which Paolo Porpora was a member (although I have no evidence that Porpora joined the Bentvueghels).

The Bentvueghels, or many artists of that period were influenced by Carravaggio, and like him, lived a rather wild, Bohemian kind of lifestyle.
The Bentvueghels looked up to Bacchus (the God of wine) as their idol, and there are some images of them in Taverns, living it up.

On another website, called ‘Hunting for Snails’  I found some more information on Porpora (3):
In 1666 he appears among the members of the Congregazione dei Virtuosi del Pantheon, (in Rome), until his death (in 1673), when the institution will pay the fees for the Mass of the DEFUNCT artist.

This seems quite amazing – that such a prolific artist, who once worked for one of the richest families in Rome, could die in poverty. Although, it seems that many, seemingly successful, artists of that era ended up in Paupers’ graves.
Ironically, it was reported in the recent articles about the Taiwanese schoolboy damaging a Paolo Porpora, that the painting, called ‘Flowers’ had a value of one Million pounds!

Phew!  What a Journey!!

(1) and (2) The information on Otto Marseus van Shriek and also about the Biography of van Schriek, written by Arnold Houbraken sourced from          
accessed October 2015

(3) Porpora and the Congregazione dei Virtuosi
 accessed October 2015

15th June 2015

Having researched Porpora and Harrison there do not seem to be any publications solely on them.

However, there is a lovely book published by National Museum Wales Books 2011, called ‘Discovered in Time’ Treasures from Early Wales. Edited by Mark Redknap.

There is a section on The Llys Awel Hoard. The figurines of the Healing Dogs, which are part of my inspiration for the project, are in this with some excellent illustrations.

Discovered in time : treasures from early Wales / edited by Mark Redknap

Cardiff : National Museum of Wales, 2011

BU Welsh Library GF558 .D57 2011 AVAILABLE

Descript 162 p. : ill. (some col.), map. ; 23 cm

Subject Wales -- History

Wales -- Antiquities

ISBN 9780720006049 (pbk.)

072000604X (pbk.)

On a visit to NMW Cardiff I enquired about publications concerning their Archaeological collections. A book, ‘Discovered in Time’ Treasures from Early Wales, was pointed out – well, it was ‘love at first sight!’ A beautiful image of The Abergavenny Leopard Cup was the cover. One of over 70 artefacts contained in this book. From the 1st century AD. this marvellous leopard forms the cup’s handle – bronze, with silver inlaid ‘spots’; made by the lost-wax process like the healing dog figurines found at Llys Awel, Conwy, but with such grace and movement, looking as if it has just leapt up onto the side of the cup, peering viciously inside – possessing some savage power not lost across 2,000 years, and the anatomical detail is superb, so expressive!

Sensibly, the editor and contributors of this book have achieved the perfect balance between text and illustrations. The photographs are so ‘realistic!’ – almost 3D – well lit to bring out intrinsic fine detail in the form, anatomy and decoration of each object.

Valuable historic research also tells the details of where each artefact was found. Much of the history of Wales is here, through our forebears, who made, wore and used these objects.

Many of these artefacts have been discovered up here in North Wales, notably the two healing dog figurines, 1st to 4th century AD, found at Pen y Corddyn hillfort (near Abergele). And The Parc y Meirch (park of the horses) hoard, discovered at St. George, Conwy, consisting of horse harness fittings, called ‘jangle plates’ – the ponies that wore them must have looked and sounded so beautiful wearing them, 1150 – 1000 BC!

These are just the tip of the iceberg of the contents of this wonderful book!

Touchingly, this book is dedicated to Edward Lhuyd (1670-1709), a most amazing man – Celtic scholar, botanist, and much more besides! To me this is a link to my father, Joe Gianelli, who once showed me the growing place of the Lloydia (named after its discoverer, Edward Lhuyd) – also known as the Snowdon Lily; growing on Clogwyn Du’r Arddu. I was about 9 or 10 at the time.

12th June 2015

Things I have done so far.
Experimented with monoprints of dogs, snakes, lichen, skeletons, etc.
Made some A1 (plus a strip), chalk drawings of dogs (from healing dog figurines).
Taken may photographs of lichen and wildflowers, etc.
Made a flower book.
Been to Cardiff Museum to see the Porpora painting – sketched and photographed it.
Bought a book with information and illustrations of the Llys Awel dog figurines.
Started making transcription monoprints of elements from the Porpora painting,  e.g. reptiles and flowers.
Kept a jotter from the start of the project.
Researched the extreme usefulness of dogs, snakes and plants in medicine and medical research.
Been to the Natural History Museum to draw some snakes and a python skeleton.
Seen some live snakes at the Brambell building.
Read a book about the Physicians of Myddfai. (Welsh Herbal Medicine).
Ordered a book – Culpeper’s Herbal.
Amassed a bunch of articles, illustrations and writings for my journal.
Kept photographic records of work done in my studio to date.

Paolo Porpora. Still Life with a Snake, Frogs and a Tortoise

detail, see full image at page end

Collection: Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales.

Lately I have been concentrating a lot on the healing aspects of my project, and thinking and knowing that folk who lived around our farm, Pant y Buarth, Brynrefail,  Glyn’s father, John Robert Evans, and his grandmother, who lived nearby, at Ty’n Buarth, used plants as medicines for people and animals.

Part of my project is finding out the medicinal properties of some of these plants, and I am making a little book, which contains pressed flowers, which grow around Pant y Buarth; their names, in English and Welsh, are written alongside of them.
My father, Joe Gianelli, taught me, at a very young age, the names of the wild flowers and ferns, which grew around out home, the Snowdon Ranger, and they have remained in my memory for ever. Mostly the same plants grow here at Pant y Buarth.

Unfortunately, as far as we know, little of the knowledge about the remedies was written down, and now only snatches of it remain for the present generation. Glyn remembers being instructed by his father, on walks around the farm, to gather handfuls of this and that leaf, etc; then Jack would boil them up on the fire, filling the house with a herby smell of mint, etc. which when cool, the chopped up green matter would be mixed with lard into ointment, or bottled as a medicine.

11th June 2015 

3rd June 2015

                                        A Visit to Cardiff Museum and Gallery.
It was rather a whistlestop tour – not much time to spare, so had to make the most of it. Blessed by a nice, sunny June day, which created a feeling of confidence and well-being. Quickly found my chosen painting by Paolo Porpora,  ‘Still life with Snakes, Tortoise and other Reptiles.’  The painting was hung in a dark, rather claustrophobic corner, which made its background seem almost black. Although this added to the mystery of the picture, I have seen on websites, a much clearer background, containing some free brush drawing of plants.

I was able to make some quick pencil sketches of various elements of the painting – had taken with me a piece of A1 cartridge folded into about eight sections. My sketching was rather nervy, as I felt a bit excited and on edge, not least as I was taking a few photos as well, and was unsure whether I should have asked permission;  also felt a bit guilty of ‘hogging’ the space before the painting from members of the general public.

Not far from the Porpora was the fantastic portrait of the North Walian artist,  Richard Wilson, by Anton Raphael Mengs. Wilson, who loved Snowdonia, and trained in Rome, is now acknowledged as an artist of huge significance, even credited with influencing Turner and Constable. Also, Thomas Jones, Pencerrig, was a student of Wilson’s, who died at Colomendy, Mold at the early age of 68 yrs.   

14th April 2015

Wednesday 18th March 2015

About work done during the past couple of weeks. Research, drawing and monoprinting.

I found an image of a dog’s skull, made a monoprint of it, and came to realise that the structure of dogs and snakes could make for interesting subject matter. Particularly as I had used thin Perspex (acetate) for the monoprints, the ones of skeletal type images, slightly reminded me of x-rays. From this revelation I recalled some work of Julian Schnabel – after discovering some ancient x-rays in France he was inspired to make paintings about them. These were exhibited at the Gagosian Gallery, and I have been examining them online.

Also, whilst visiting Dulwich Picture Gallery on the 13th January, my eye was taken by some big bright blue leaves in the foreground of a large hunting scene painted in 1665 by Adam Pynacker, a Dutch artist – think the shapes of the leaves reminded me of Dog Lichen, which I have been drawing and printing. Couldn’t help wondering why, when the rest of the painting was in conventional colours, these were so incongruous? According to the info. The yellow pigment in the leaves had faded away!  Then, looking at the rest of the painting, noticed a large cream coloured hound, also in the foreground; this dog was extremely lean, so virtually all his bones and muscles were visible –  the posture of the hound, which was crouching and straining (as dogs do), seemed to emphasise his anatomical structure. These two most prominent features seemed to reduce the rest of the painting to obscurity, to me at least.

Also, the above mentioned painting relates to one of my two chosen paintings at Museum of Wales, Cardiff, being also a hunting scene. ‘The Llanharran Hunt, by John F. Harrison.

John F. Harrison. The Llanharan Hunt

Date painted: c.1837

Oil on canvas, 101.6 x 127 cm

Collection: Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

I love the shapes and temperament of these hunting hounds, noble beasts, and thinking about them has opened up yet another can of worms – as a lot of attention is being given to the hunting debate at this moment in time, no doubt due to the forthcoming election, have been watching (on Countryfile), and, reading a big article in the Guardian relating to these matters. Have kept the article/s for my journal.

Another wonderful study is in the Dulwich -  Head of a Hound by Pietr Boel, 1660 – 65., thought to be   preparatory for ‘Boar Hunt at the Schloss in Mosigkau’.  Love the wonderful expression, so touching, on the hound’s face, each muscle and whisker rendered – the fur painted impressionistically.

9th March, 2015

May have mentioned before that I would like my work to meet art with science, and being inspired by those little healing dog figurines has led along this path.

Today I went to the Natural History Museum at the Brambell Building, Bangor University, and was able to sketch a python skeleton, and two other snake specimens.

Since I have started drawing and printmaking about dogs and snakes have become fascinated with their structure – what lies beneath their skin? So far have made prints of a dog’s skull, an amazingly emaciated hound from a painting by Pynacker (with all its bone and muscle structure visible), and now a python’s skeleton.

Drawing bone structure really gives you something to get your teeth into!

Another thing which excites me is the fact that scientists at Bangor University (and also at Liverpool) are experimenting with snake venom in the field of medicine. Have heard that venom could be used as a treatment for stroke and arthritis; also the possibility that it could be useful as an anaesthetic, which would be free of the side effects suffered from ‘conventional’ anaesthetic. I would like to find out more about these matters.                                                                                        

February 2015

Have started to experiment with monoprint, using thin Perspex, water-based inks, rollers;

Also trying out various thin papers such as:

Thin, hand-made paper from Nepal, ordinary tissue paper, brass-rubbing paper and some thin, quite tough ‘paper’ from a friend.

Have tried two different methods of monoprinting:

1.      Rolling thin layer of ink onto Perspex, then adding or removing ink with brush, rags, kitchen paper. Then printing onto thin paper.

2.      Lightly placing sheet of paper onto inked up Perspex, and drawing the image with a pointed implement, onto the back of the print. Removing carefully.

Producing some interesting results, in particular one grotesque dog – it looks really evil – I want my dogs to be cur-like, not cute lap-dogs.  Have always liked Martin Brothers grotesque stoneware birds (tobacco jars, etc.)

Furthermore, after removing the linear prints from the Perspex, the remaining white line image is rather wonderful? Photographed some of these before cleaning ink off Perspex. Some of them look rather mysterious and evil too!  Might end up keeping some of them on small pieces of Perspex (negative images), as part of the work body.
White image left on Perspex plate after taking linear print.

Linear images, on tissue, on plate – taken from sketchbook.

A page from my lichen sketchbook. (Nepal paper).

Work in progress – lichen plate inked up, ready to print.

First lichen print on thin paper, hanging up to dry.

Paolo Porpora. Still Life with a Snake, Frogs and a Tortoise

Oil on canvas, 52.3 x 95.2 cm

Collection: Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

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