Two Duchesses (In Two Parts)

I have to say that I am getting a bit fed up with the after-effects of Covid – eight weeks after I first tested positive and had very mild symptoms, I am still feeling exhausted and completely brain-fogged, hence the lack of any posts recently. The brain-fog (and I don’t need anyone saying what’s new about that, thanks) is quite worrying: I can’t spell, I can’t remember names and facts, I can’t concentrate and therefore can’t read (except tried and trusted fiction), and, best(?) of all, I put my foot on the accelerator rather than the brake at one point last week, though thankfully no harm was done to anyone (or any car).

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Reasons To Be Cheerful

I posted this blog ten minutes ago, at which point everything except the title disappeared (possibly not unconnected with the content). So I’m having another go … Among the (very first-world) disadvantages of Covid are: having to cancel a trip to Italy; coughing and spluttering; streaming eyes; and (more than usual) brain fog. Consequences are: not going to Italy; not being able to concentrate on anything; failing to plant out sweet peas, prick out seedlings or deadhead anything.

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St Clement(s)

Out and about in the wilderness populated by dragons that is north Cambridge a few days ago, I visited (as well as Kettle’s Yard – Ai Weiwei, do go!) St Peter’s church, and, on my way back down, St Clement’s. I was surprised to find the latter open, as in my experience it used not to be (but as I said, I don’t go to those parts all that often), and was also delighted to receive a very warm welcome.

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Plant of the Month: April 2022

I first (consciously) saw an Amelanchier lamarckii in the Abbey Gardens at Bury St Edmunds in spring some thirty years ago. At the time, it seemed a delightful, delicate and exotic rarity, but either they have become more popular or I have become more aware of them over the years: there are now at least a dozen in my immediate vicinity.

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Saint Pantaleimon

We’re recently back from a week in Venice, where the weather was glorious, and we spent a lot of time in churches, not least because some seem to be open now which never, ever, were in the last twenty years or so – at least when we were passing by. Thus we were able to go inside San Silvestro (which has a large painting of St Thomas Becket), and to look at the extraordinary works of art in San Pantalon.

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March is all about anticipation: admittedly, whitethorn and Prunus cerasifera are doing their thing, and Mahonia is almost over, but, in the Botanic Garden, I don’t imagine I am the only person checking up on the great Prunus yedoensis (the Yoshino cherry) on the Main Lawn, of which the flower buds are swelling in a manner which is both gratifying and hugely exciting. If nothing goes wrong in the way of storms or severe frosts, this will be a vintage year for the Garden’s greatest poster child.

The Yoshino cherry in its glory a couple of years ago (Credit: Cambridge University Botanic Garden)
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Déjà Vu All Over Again

Sadly, the moment has arrived. Yesterday, I packed up my mug, my spoon and my jar of decaffeinated coffee and left my lovely workplace for the last time. This, as my devoted followers (I can dream, can’t I?), will be aware, is my second retirement, the first having taken place almost exactly seven years ago, and in rather less happy circumstances.

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Brother of the More Famous Jan

One of the treasures of the Fairhaven Bequest at the Fitzwilliam Museum is the series of twelve flower paintings, one for each month of the year, by van Huysum. Until a few days ago, I had assumed that the artist was Jan van Huysum (or Huijsum; 1682–1749), whose vases of flowers, blooming together on his canvases in a way that they do not always do in real life, are found in art galleries all over the world. But then it was pointed out to me that this sequence was in fact created by Jacob or Jacobus van Huysum (1687/9–1740), a younger and lesser-known brother of Jan.

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Two Graven Stones

I had a Grand Day Out in London this week, not the least of its grandeur being my success in walking from Pimlico (where the plane trees have suffered remarkable pruning) to the Garden Museum at Lambeth, then back past Westminster and New Scotland Yard (where an anti-Boris and Cressida demo was taking place, with very witty banners), then on to the Strand, to Somerset House, and finally to Covent Garden, without getting lost, thus at least (and at last) beginning to fulfill one of my Retirement Resolutions of nearly six years ago, to get to know London better on foot rather than underground. Ironic that I have done this as the date of my second (and probably last, but who knows?) retirement looms.

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Jane Dormer

Back in the autumn, I had the happy experience of wandering around the Palazzo Ducale at Mantua, drooling over the Mantegnas, though rather less appreciative of the efforts of Giulio Romano. More rooms are open than the last time we visited, and in some of these are portraits (mostly) of known and unknown dignitaries of the sixteenth century, many of them copies of works by the like of Palma Vecchio, Sebastiano del Piombo and other famous Venetians.

There is also this portrait (below), possibly a loose copy of one by Antonis Mor now in the Prado, which is believed to be of Jane Dormer, duchess of Feria in Spain, who began life as a daughter of minor English nobility, and whose fate was entwined with that of Mary I of England and Philip II of Spain.

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