Monthly Archives: April 2012

It has been a busy week

Quotation: Jacob Bronowski

“It is vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.”

Quotation: Steven Pinker

“The great appeal of the doctrine that the mind is a blank slate is the simple mathematical fact that zero equals zero.”

Short Verse Friday: Desire

Heaven and hell and commerce conspire
to lay the path to our heart’s desire.

More pieces of Bethlehem

Church of the Nativity. Tony McMahon. 2012

Security wall through a fence. Tony McMahon. 2012

Yesterday over at the Templar Blog (a very lively blog indeed!), Tony McMahon posted some photos of his recent visit to Bethlehem. In the image above from the Church of the Nativity one can see where the artisan who fashioned the relic I wrote about yesterday found their inspiration.

As you can see McMahon also captured an evocative image of the security wall. A beautiful olive grove marred by chain-link, concrete, and fear.

A dead relic

Pieces of stone from cave where Jesus was said to have been born, now embedded in the west wall of the Tribune Tower Nathan Hale Lobby. (William DeShazer / Chicago Tribune)

I recently had the opportunity to hear Annabel J. Wharton from Duke University talk about her research in a presentation titled, “Protestants, Relics, Things.” (More on this in a later post.)

She began this presentation with the spolia object and above certifying description by L.S. Chakales, Chief of Bureau in a letter to Keith B. Capron, Tribune Tower Building Manager, May 8, 1950.

Despite the modern beauty of the reliquary, the letter reads like a Nigerian bank scam.

“The fragments I gave to Colonel McCormick are from the actual Cave of the Nativity. They were scraped from the ceiling of the cave by the Archbishop of the Orthodox church, which is situated directly above the cave and through which every denomination must pass to reach the shrine. Under no circumstances can the archbishop be identified publicly as the source. However it could be stated they came from a person who had access to the cave. Their authenticity can be guaranteed and proven by the archbishop and the mayor of Bethlehem, but the archbishop naturally would be reluctant to make it public. However the mayor, Issa Bandak, I am sure would confirm them. We were his guests in his home which is situated in a convent which is a part of the church of the Nativity for Christmas, 1949, when the fragments were given to us. In fact, it was his influence that brought about the archbishop’s unusual action. We went down the morning after and saw the white spot in the roof of the cave. In addition, we also got four tiny pieces of mosaic that were scraped away. We attached great importance to the fragments. It must be recalled the cave has been there for 2,000 years and it remains virtually intact. In that time souvenir hunters should have leveled the area for miles around, but miraculously it remained intact. I would like to emphasize these fragments came from the cave in which Christ was actually born and not from the immediate vicinity.”

“Bras en L’Air” French Clock

Bras en l'air clock. French. c. 1890.

I’m not really much for clocks but I am a sucker for alternate formats of time keeping. Here is a gorgeous timepiece of the bras en l’air (arms in the air) type listed for sale on eBay by Musical Treasures of Miami. The reserve is only $27,500.

From the perspective of an automata maker who must incorporate a timepiece into a design as some kind of nod to utility, this alternate hand placement opens up a host of compositional options not available to the traditional round, twelve-numbered face.

I’d love to get a peek at that mechanism. More research is needed and The Hour Lounge appears to be a good place to start.

Here is the full text:

This is an exceptionally rare and beautiful French clock, c.1890. Stands about 19″ high.

The gilded robed goddess standing atop the marble base has her arms outstretched. The hand of her right arm points to the hour, and the left hand points to the minutes, which are delineated in 5-minute increments. The gilding contrasts most beautifully with the blue enameled backdrop behind the goddess.

The platform escapement movement works perfectly, translating the clockworks through a clever linkage to the two arms, which when they reach their uppermost point fall dramatically to the lower starting position.

Every detail of this clock is in stunning condition, from the marble base with gilt trim, the goddess, time numerals, etc., are all flawless and without a scratch or mark.

This clock comes from the private collection of noted antique collector and authority Edgar G. Miller, who also published many books about antiques.

(as posted at The Automata / Automaton Blog)