Tag Archives: medieval cosmology

Planet series – Jupiter (in progress) day 3

‘Jupiter’ (in progress).

Today’s progress on ‘Jupiter’. I wanted to create a luminous backdrop for the painting – the sea is a glaze of blues and gloss varnish, which you can see slightly better in this image ..

(This is the second in a series of seven paintings inspired by the seven planets as understood in Medieval cosmology, and the seven books of Narnia, which as the writer Michael Ward discovered, were themselves inspired by the seven planets. For more about the series, click on ‘Home’, above, and scroll through previous posts).

As mentioned in a previous post, I decided to paint Castle Tioram as the theme for ‘Jupiter’. Jupiter rules the months of February and March and I’ll be including trees, flora and fauna related to the planet as the painting progresses.

Fairy Tales ..

Castle Tioram, photo Rose Strang September 2018

 

 

 

 

 

I first visited Castle Tioram (pronounced ‘Cheerum’) in the Ardnamurchan Peninsula in 1992, and returned again for the first time since then in September last year. It was a beautiful, entrancing place back then, and still is. The Ardnamurchan Peninsula is one of Scotland’s most remote and un-spoiled areas of landscape. Ancient forests grow right down to the coast. Mosses, lichens and rare plants flourish in the relatively unpolluted atmosphere – the forest’s ecosystem is more or less untouched, save for a very few pathways and single track roads that weave through the area.

If you’re interested in forest ecosystems you’ll know that forest trees ‘talk’ to one-another in a sense. They communicate via their complex root system, so that younger trees, or weaker trees are fed nutrients by older trees – they’re interdependent. Before a tree dies, it sends nutrients to the roots of nearby trees. When the forest root-system is disturbed by, for example, motorways cutting one area off from another, the forest ecosystem is destroyed. An ancient forest is a sort of entity in a sense (or a community if you like!)

So Tolkien wasn’t far wrong, and C.S. Lewis (a close friend of Tolkien for decades) shared this reverence for nature – both author’s books featured the idea of conscious trees. Lewis’s stories featured dryads (tree spirits) able to ‘leave’ the physical tree and travel far distances to communicate important news. (in The Last Battle for example a dryad tells King Rillian that her tree, miles away, is being destroyed along with the rest of the forest).

In the east part of Ardnamurchan, further inland, is one of Europe’s rare original oak forests. It’s called Ariundle (derived from Scottish Gaelic Àiridh –  meaning a shieling or collection of small huts and Fhionndail – a fair meadow). So, ‘a collection of huts in the fair meadow’. Ariundle is a remnant of the ancient coastal oakwood that formerly stretched along the Atlantic coast from Spain and Portugal to Norway.

Ariundle Oak Forest in Ardnamurchan

 

 

 

 

In early medieval times Castle Tioram and Ardnamurchan were far busier places than nowadays. The highways of the ancient world across Scandinavia and the north of Scotland were sea-routes – quicker to navigate than land before modern times when roads were cut through mountains and forests.

The north and west of Scotland as a whole was teeming with activity. There were numerous wars of independence and during the Middle ages, Scottish castles were often burned and destroyed during war-times to prevent them being occupied by incoming armies (which is what happened to Castle Tioram).

Towards the end of the 18th century (post-Culloden) Highland clearances, then the industrial revolution almost entirely emptied some areas of the west coast. Anyone who hadn’t emigrated, or been forced to emigrate, to America and Canada moved to the cities and towns for work.

The one upside of this is that the landscape has been left untouched. Castle Tioram, situated on a rocky outcrop in a glass-like sea surrounded by wild forest, can have quite an impact on visitors to the place –  it does look almost other-worldy, or mythical.

Maybe it’s just nostalgia that makes people respond with emotion to the castle, a sentiment or belief that things were better in times past. Looking into early Scottish history though, there are as always two stories – one from ruling leaders, post war, and the story discovered in ancient Gaelic manuscripts. Tioram was never defeated in battle, for hundreds of years it was relatively peaceable (for those times at least, when feuds were common throughout Europe).

The castle and surrounding area was home to a large community ruled by the MacDonalds under the complex laws of the early clan system. This society enjoyed thriving art, literary and music traditions, and although the more democratic approach to running society appeared chaotic or ‘barbaric’ to outsiders, it now looks ahead of its time. Men and women inherited title and property, children of the ruling monarchs were often placed in the poorest households of the clan, while poorer children in the community were adopted temporarily by the ruling family. This encouraged connections, the learning of skills, and a balanced community.

It wasn’t all peaceable of course, there were the numerous complex feuds between clans, and the wars of independence which occurred between the 13th to 18th centuries. In 1715 the then chief of Clan Donald, Allan MacDonald, torched the castle before joining the battle at Sherriffmuir (1715 Jacobite rebellion – thanks for correction Murdo MacDonald!) He expected to lose, and didn’t want the castle to fall in to government hands. The final battle took place in 1745 at Culloden, and after this the Scottish clan system was destroyed (also due to the fact that many Scottish clan chiefs bought into the new feudal system as it offered unlimited opportunities for wealth and land) and Scotland never regained independence.

All of that explains some of the historical reasons why we respond to such places, but maybe our response to castle ruins in a wild remote landscape is also related to the power of fairy tale or archetypes – it ‘speaks’ to us of something important and valuable. In Ardnamurchan the air feels different because it is different – it’s clean, scented with salty brine, sun-warmed wood, mossy forest floors and the honey of heather throughout summer – it feels idyllic. Nowadays we understand the environmental fragility of such places.

In an earlier post I described C.S. Lewis’s fascination with Medieval mythology and cosmology – an era in which he believed imagination held an important philosophical role. From a different perspective Jung also explored this area – focusing on the importance of archetypes in the collective human psyche. Early Medieval thinking hadn’t yet lost that sense of universality, and connection to nature.

A castle on a remote island reminds us of a thousand different myths and fairy tales – tangled forests, ogres, battles, knights, magicians, princesses plotting escape, not to mention Camelot – a legend based on dreams of a lost golden age and the search for a mysterious holy grail. One conflict of the story is the battle of Pagan and Christian religions – neither of which comes out on top, interestingly. The myth goes (of course!) that both Merlin (Pagan) and Arthur (Christian) will return again.

It all reminds me of this sort of art …

From ‘Très Riches Heures’. 15th cent’  French illuminated manuscript

From ‘Très Riches Heures’. 15th cent’ French illuminated manuscript

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Gothic or pre-renaissance style of painting is a continuation of Byzantine art. It made way for new ideas of realism in art – perspective and so on – leading to high renaissance art and ‘the age of reason’. Boticelli was sn artistic bridge between these styles and Northern renaissance art sometimes referred back to this earlier era stylistically.

All of this is ideal subject matter for my Jupiter painting, relating also to the Jupiterian book from the Narnia Chronicles The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe which centres on the idea of Winter passed, guilt forgiven – restoration of a golden age of peace in the sea-side castle of Cair Paravel after years of cold and brutality, but this comes after challenges, sacrifice and re-birth (the Christian element of the story – though there are many themes).

In this story, the dryads and trees of Narnia are still fully alive (in later books they have to be re-awakened) and since the oak is the tree most closely associated with Jupiter, that’s another reason to paint Ardnamurchan, one of the few places where you can enjoy fully living forests.

Here’s a link with more about Ariundle – https://www.wildlochaber.com/ardnamurchan/wildlife/ariundle-oakwood

Ariundle Forest . https://www.nnr.scot (Scotland’s National Nature Reserves, website)

Planets Series, Jupiter – day 1

Above – a preliminary rough sketch for the Jupiter painting.

Every moment the patches of green grew bigger and the patches of snow grew smaller. Every moment more and more of the trees shook off their robes of snow. Soon, wherever you looked, instead of white shapes you saw the dark green of firs or the black prickly branches of bare oaks and beeches and elms. Then the mist turned from white to gold and presently cleared away all together. Shafts of delicious sunlight struck down on to the forest floor and overhead you could see the blue sky through the treetops.

C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

I’m sketching ideas for my new painting ‘Jupiter’, second in a series of seven paintings inspired by the seven planets as understood in Medieval cosmology, and the seven books of Narnia, which (as the writer Michael Ward discovered) were themselves inspired by the seven planets.

(you can view all the previous posts from my home page – ‘Home’ menu above)

What’s Jupiterian about the painting and excerpt above you may ask! Firstly, the planet associated with the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe is Jupiter, secondly it’s coming up to the right time of year; in the order of Medieval planets Jupiter comes after Saturn. Saturn is associated with winter, Jupiter represents the overcoming of Saturn and long winter. Not quite the arrival of spring (associated with Mars) but around now the days become longer, we see the first snowdrops, and in the wildest most ancient woodlands the arrival of the beautiful star-like seven-petaled wood anemone (associated with the north wind and Jupiter). Winter is losing its hold at last.

Snowdrop illustration by Pauline Baynes, Narnia Chronicles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jupiter, ruler of Sagittarius and Pisces (this is the Medieval view of planets, so Neptune, Uranus and Pluto were not viewable at the time) was seen as the ruler of all the planets. Jove (Roman title) also relates to Zeus (Greek title) and Thor, god of thunder, storm and the north wind.

Subjects associated with Jupiter were higher learning, the law, theology,  the cosmos and the sea. Qualities – joviality (optimism, laughter), honesty and kingship. Colours – azure, purple. Animals – horses, dolphins and various others including the mythical centaur. Plants – wood anenome, dandelions (among many others). Trees – Oak mainly (associated with Thor). Day – Thursday. Order of planets …

(image from website http://www.planetnarnia.com )

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also … wardrobes – you can look it up yourself in Medieval planet associations!

‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’. ‘Ward Robes’ – robes worn by kings and members of the court. Fur coats worn by Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy discovered in the wardrobe before they enter the land of Narnia through the wardrobe. In the book, Tumnus the faun asks Lucy how she got into Narnia ‘I – I got in through the wardrobe in the spare room’. Tumnus replies – ‘Daughter of Eve from the far land of Spare Oom where eternal summer reigns around the bright city of War Drobe, how would it be if you came and had tea with me?’.  All appropriately ‘jovial’ – Lewis was himself a Sagittarian!

My painting sketch above is a simple, stylised painting of the ruined Castle Tioram in Ardnamaurchan on the west coast of Scotland (which, incidentally is where the Resipole Gallery is situated, which exhibits my paintings).

Castle Tioram, photo Rose Strang September 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jupiterian themes in the sketch include oak trees, moss, azure, sea, kingship (castle), some snow, and a suggestion of wood anemones.

Ardnamurchan is wild – one of the most un-touched areas of the west coast of Scotland. I associate the castle imaginatively with the Narnian castle of Cair Paravel (also the Jupiterian idea of kingship or rulership) particularly as it’s experienced in Prince Caspian, in the spine-tingling passage when the children find themselves near the sea, surrounded by a thicket of ancient trees growing down to the beach, up above on the rocks they discover the ruins of a castle, and decide to camp there for the night, then gradually realise it is in fact Cair Paravel where they once ruled as kings and queens, but while they’ve been back in England for a year or so, hundreds of years have passed in Narnia  …

In my previous painting, ‘Saturn’, there’s a reference to the castle there too, but it’s night so you can’t see its form. Once I paint the large version of Jupiter, there will be more Jupiterean themes – wood anemones among the snow will be a clear foreground feature, and hopefully I’ll be able to paint the feeling of wind in the treetops (Jupiter ruling wind and thunder).

Planets series in progress – day 5

‘January, Nightscape (Planets Series – Saturn)’. Oils and mixed media on 40×40″ wood panel. Rose Strang 2019.

Above – today’s painting in progress – January, Nightscape.

This painting is part of my ‘planets series’, inspired by ‘the Narniad’ and the Medieval view of the cosmos, which you can read about in these previous posts 1  2, 3 and

I think the painting is pretty much there now, which is a relief. I wanted to have it finished by the end of this month since this painting relates to the planet Saturn –  connected to December and January. A bit more detail maybe (I might pick out the constellations of Capricorn and Aquarius in very fine lines) then a couple of layers of varnish will give it a rich, glossy finish.

I feel it’s suitably Saturnine, without being too oppressive, and maybe there’s also a subtly medieval atmosphere. I think the finely scratched lines bring metal-plate etchings to mind anyway.

Here are a few photos showing its development …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m not only relieved about this painting nearing completion, I’m also glad that January is on its way out as I find it an oppressive time here in the northern hemisphere. The next planet in focus is Jupiter which rules Pisces and Sagittarius. (Medieval astronomers were limited in what they could see , so Pluto, Neptune and Uranus had not yet been named as planets, hence why nowadays Pisces is said to be ruled by Neptune).

Just to confuse matters further, there’s Sidereal astrology (Indian Vedic approach, and some western astrologers use it) and Tropical astrology. Tropical astrology uses a constellation map from around 2000 years ago, but due to the earth’s wobble this is now about 30 degrees out.

Modern-day astrologers using the Tropical charts say that the constellations relate still to time of year, therefore seasonal influence, sidereal astrologers claim that the influence of the planets is important, therefore a current map of astronomy is important.

If this interests you, I recommend the Skymap mobile app, which shows you the exact position of the stars and planets in real time. You can also search by date going back or forwards in time. I’m a Sagittarius going by the Tropical system, but according to Sidereal astrology I’d be born with the sun in Scorpius (in real time/our time the sun is in Scorpio from the 23rd to 29th November). But, the old-school Tropical system splits all the zodiac constellations into equal segments of the night sky so each is given approximately 30 days.

Make of all that what you will! I’m no expert and I have no idea if planets can actually influence our birth and personality. I am interested in the moon though, which does influence the earth.

The next planet in my series is Jupiter – the medieval planet associated with learning, theology, philosophy and joviality, which governs Sagittarius (centaur) and Pisces (fish). Its associated colours are greens, blues, aqua, silver, purple and blue, its animals horses and fishes, also dolphins – I find these subjects and colours very appealing ! I’ll begin the new painting next week.

I’ll leave this series of posts about Saturn with a suitably profound, mysterious and decidedly eery video (below) by (Capricornian) David Bowie from his last album Black Star (which is in fact an alternate name for Saturn) .

The video and song are laden with symbology and hidden meaning (there are thousands of Bowie fans out there busily attempting to decipher all of this. Good luck to them, ha!) Remember though, that among the themes of Saturn are death, renewal and liberation, giving way to the influence of Jove, Jupiter and happier days! The Narnia book relating to Jupiter is The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe – the end of long winter and the coming of Spring.

A quick sketch, made in biro this very minute ..

Flower illustration, copied from sketch by Pauline Baynes from the Narnia Chronicles.