Friday, May 11, 2012

Connoisseurship, tiles and the OM1n

click photo to enlarge
I often think there is a fine line between connoisseurship and obsession, and that both are capable of distorting, rather than refining, judgement. That thought first struck me many years ago when I glanced at one of the many television programmes about antiques. A couple of experts were discussing the merits of a small, eighteenth century, china figurine that depicted a coy shepherdess, complete with lamb, who was being courted and gazed on adoringly by a young man. The discussion ranged over the quality of the representation, the fineness of the detail in the painting, the provenance of the piece, how it compared with others by the same maker and different makers, and much else. After listening to this for a while, and looking at the comparable figurines that were also being shown, an "Emperor's New Clothes" moment came upon me and I found myself wanting to interject and say, "But they are ALL meretricious, sentimental tat. That's what they were the day they were made, and that's what they remain today." It seemed to me that their connoisseurship had caused them to lose all perspective on the real qualities of the pieces under discussion.

What I don't deny, however, is that familiarity with a set of objects, to the point of connoisseurship, does give one perspective within that set, even if it can sometimes blind one to the overall value of them. Take a case in point. I have looked at and studied the floor tiles and mosaics of churches for many years. Every church I visit I note the tiles and mosaics. This familiarity has given me a frame of reference that allows me to see any that depart from the norm and any which, in my judgement rise above the average. In the field of church floor tiles and mosaics, as with most man-made artefacts, the bell-shaped curve can be applied to the quality of the output, with most being competent, fewer being less than competent, and some showing greater imagination and quality.

Today's photograph shows the mosaic floor in the church at Bishop Wilton, East Yorkshire. It dates from 1902 and represents the tail end of Arts and Crafts. Its linear, almost Rococo style, with birds rather than medieval or overtly religious motifs, makes it very unusual for an English church. Its origins suggest why this should be so. Though it was designed by the English architect, Temple Moore, it is said to be based on a design in the Vatican, and was manufactured by the Venetian company of Salviati. When I saw it the design immediately caught my eye and I was favourably impressed to the point where I took this photograph of it. The coloured patches of light from the stained glass added a further dimension to my image. That was in August 1986! This photograph was taken using an Olympus OM1n with the Zuiko 50mm 1.8 lens and slide film. I recently passed the slide through my new, dedicated slide and negative scanner that I recently bought, and I was sufficiently pleased with the digitized result to post it.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus OM1n
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 50mm
F No: N/A
Shutter Speed: N/A
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  N/A
Image Stabilisation: N/A