Trip report: Colour

Today we headed over to the Fitzwilliam Musem for Colour, its exhibit of illuminated manuscripts with special reference to, er, colour. It was good!

Like other Fitz exhibits we’ve been to lately (especially Death on the Nile), it included a lot of focus on the technology and materiality of manuscript illuminations, rather than just considering them aesthetically. That’s always something I’m interested in, so good there, although I would have liked to have seen something on their social role. I mean, obviously they were high-status gifts, but how were they used, how displayed?

There were also some good mentions of the afterlives of these items, being passed around, cut up, copied, forged, sold to art collectors, vandalised to get the previous metals and so on. All very interesting.

I think my favourite piece was the alchemical scroll of George Ripley. I had seen images from it (or from others like it), but they don’t give you the impression of how huge it is. You really have to see it.


There was also a very cool image of the Battle of Clavijo on a Spanish patent of nobility that looked like something out of a Warhammer book (I know, I know, other way around), and a lovely image of a melancholic man. Anyway, if you’re in the area, you should go and see it; it’s informative, it’s not too large and it’s free.

Trip report: Colour

Yet more ahistorical nostalgia

Like many people in Britain, I pay attention to American politics, a hobby(?) helped by the fact that I lived for much of my life in the US. This year, what British and American politics have in common is that democratic processes have led to results that many people are unhappy with — Brexit here and the nomination of Donald Trump as the Republican presidential candidate back in America.

This is the kind of thing that predictably prompts some people to say “well, this is what democracy gets you in the olden days the told the mob what to think Plato was right all along grah grah grahr.”

“Just find the ablest man” my ass.

This, I feel, is not a position supported by the historical evidence. It’s like that thing about dictatorships being more “efficient” than democracies. You could call Hitler’s Germany a lot of things, but “efficient” is not among them. It was a mess.

And the same goes for that other comparison so beloved of democracy’s critics, monarchy. Monarchies were a goddamn mess in pretty much any country that ever had one. An examination of the history of the British monarchy reveals a catalogue of bunglers, scoundrels, tomfools, irresponsible juveniles, would-be tyrants and just sonsabitches in general that makes the list of American presidents, Rutherford B. Hayes and Andrew Jackson included, look like a Sunday school picnic.

The critics have a point: people are (or at least can be) a bunch of damn fools. But where they err is in assuming that there is some subset of people who are not, and that they can be selected without reference to the aforementioned bunch of damn fools. Obviously, everyone thinks they’re special, but life is full of disappointments like that.

Yet more ahistorical nostalgia

Movie Monday: The Mighty Crusaders (1958)

We’ve run into this phenomenon before: the historical adventure movie based not on a historical incident but on a later story about that incident — in this case, the capture of Jerusalem by the First Crusade in 1099. Now, I like the First Crusade, so I know I’m in for some disappointment here, but let’s see what 1958’s Gerusalemme Liberata (released in English as The Mighty Crusaders) has to offer.


As you can maybe tell, it’s an Italian film, and it’s based on an Italian poem as well: a 16th-century epic by Torquato Tasso. The poem was pretty popular in its day, apparently, and was translated into other languages, inspired various works of art, and so on. It was even adapted into a silent film in 1918, although I can’t find it anywhere. If you know where I can watch it, hook me up.

Anyway, the poem is full of sorcery and weird romantic asides, most of which are not present in this film. The basic plot is that our hero, Tancred (vaguely related to the historical Tancred), meets a Persian warrior-princess, Clorinda. Although they are on opposite sides, they fall in love. This entails spending a lot of time looking passionate, or at least as passionate as a pompadoured douchebag (pompadouchebag?) can look.


Also, Clorinda is apparently cosplaying as three xylophones.

BUT! Not only does Tancred love Clorinda, soppy other-princess Erminia loves Tancred, moustachied villain Argante loves Clorinda, and Tancred’s excitable pal Rinaldo is tricked by the evil Arminda, who nonetheless (wait for it) falls in love with him. In the meantime, disguises are donned, swords are clanged harmlessly together, and both armies consist of a few dozen guys who aren’t quite sure what to do with their spears.


There are some good points: the soundtrack is all horns and booming during the attack on Jerusalem, then goes quiet apart from the lapping of water and clashing of tin swords during Tancred and Clorinda’s fateful duel. That’s not bad.

Also Godfrey says “I and my soldiers did not invade your homeland in search of conquest and riches,” which would have been news to a lot of his soldiers.

Anyway, it’s a dumbass chivalric pantomime, and if you look at it in those terms it’s sort of dimly enjoyable. Clorinda has some great outfits, and Argante has a good time going nyaaah! I can imagine that if you felt like going to the movies on a rainy Sunday afternoon in 1958 you’d be amused by an hour and a half of bright colours, pretty girls and horses galloping around. Certainly a lot happens, even if none of that lot is sensible or convincing.

But it goes without saying that it has nothing to do with the capture of Jerusalem in 1099, and indeed I suspect that some of its viewers (or the poem’s readers) would have been surprised to discover that Tancred was a real person.

Movie Monday: The Mighty Crusaders (1958)