Sunday, October 31, 2010

Renaissance Tapestry Exhibition

Most people who enjoy tapestries display them on a wall, but many people don’t realize the practical use of tapestries in times past. Tapestries have been around for hundreds of years, even in ancient civilizations, where they not only decorated the royal residence, and were hung around the royal bed for privacy, but were also used for burying the dead.

During the medieval period, churches recognized the powerful impact a Biblical scene would have on a congregation who could neither read nor write. Between that, and the show of grandeur that every European court craved, the tapestry industry thrived. Tapestries became so coveted that they were considered war prizes, and were taken by conquering armies and brought back to their country. This makes it almost impossible to trace the origin of rare tapestries, unless the artist depicted a recognizable scene, city, or siege.

Paris was the first city to open factories for the production of tapestries, most notably the Gobelins factory. During the Hundred Years Was, weavers moved north and into Belgium. My historical novel, The Tapestry Shop, opens in Arras, France, a place so famed for its tapestries that the city name, arras,  is now synonymous with the word tapestry. What I’d give to own one of those ancient tapestries, but of course they are in museums now, the few that exist, and are kept under carefully regulated temperature, light, and humidity.

For those of you within driving distance of Sarasota, Florida, the John Ringling Museum of Art has an exhibition of Renaissance tapestries from a museum in Vienna. The exhibition began in October and runs through Jan. 2, 2011. Here’s the link .

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Harpsichords in History

The distinctive sound produced by a harpsichord has always held a certain fascination for me. A solo instrument that somewhat resembles a piano, it predated the latter. The earliest representation of a harpsichord is from this sculpture (left), a 15th century altarpiece.

Using the elements of the organ and psaltery (respectively, a keyboard, and metal strings held taut with tuning pins), the harpsichord gradually developed over time, with an increase in the size of the soundboard and keyboard.

The earliest extant harpsichord was made in Italy. During the 17th century, Flemish harpsichord builders added a second manual, a useful innovation to accommodate transposition (playing in another key) to accommodate a singer’s vocal range.
French makers expanded the two-manual instrument, and later, the English developed an instrument with brilliant treble and a more resonant bass, which contrasted with the more delicate sound of the French instrument, more like a woodwind sound.

With the invention of the piano, harpsichords fell out of favor, but the instrument became popular again during the twentieth century, and was frequently used in concerts to lend authenticity to music composed for the harpsichord.

During the 1950s, harpsichord kits came into vogue. Through the years, I’ve always wanted to get a kit and build one, but the task of assembling the kit sounded daunting. I’m hoping some day to own a harpsichord. I have CDs of harpsichord music, and the sound evokes an image of an 18th-century parlor, complete with an elaborately-dressed girl seated at the keyboard—wonderful background music for a Renaissance historical, don’t you think?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Serenades Through History

I ask you, what can be more romantic than a serenade beneath your window? Even Romeo knew that, when courting Juliet. Do fraternities still serenade freshman girls below their dorm windows? I hope so, because scenes like that are the moments that make memories.

During the 13th century, singers and performers played an active role in politics, writing poems of praise to a leader, or creating satirical plays about local politicians. Not to be outdone, there were also women composers of courtly love songs. The women were known as troubaritz, and they wrote songs and sometimes performed them in court or at secular public gatherings.

In my October release, The Tapestry Shop, the main character, Adam, is a trouvere, a poet/musician in northern France, similar to the troubadours of southern France. His songs draw the attention of a magistrate, which leads to a trail of difficulties. Later, when Adam meets Catherine in a tapestry shop, there is an instant attraction, but he later learns that she will join the crusades, a mission he does not support.

Do any of you have a memory of being sung to? If so, I’d love to hear about it, so leave a comment. Who knows? You may find yourself in one of my books, wearing a low-necked crimson gown trimmed with seed pearls, being entertained by a troubadour.

Snippets from early reviews for The Tapestry Shop:

from Renaissance Magazine:  “The Tapestry Shop” brilliantly illuminates the nuances of daily medieval life … is highly recommended and will convince the reader to set out on a quest in search of additional historical fiction novels by Joyce Elson Moore.

from Romance Reviews Today:  …meticulously researched … Beautifully written, this is an excellent novel for the fan of historical fiction.