Wednesday, 20 February 2013
Currently on display at NPG is a group of lively impressions of international diplomats in Britain at the end of the 19th century – often overlooked individuals from a largely forgotten aspect of Victorian history. They include Chinese envoy Kuo Sung-tao in 1877, Japanese ambassador Tadasu Hayashi 1902 and Ras Makonnan (then anglicized as Makunan) (1852-1906) envoy from Abyssinia (as it was) who was father of Ras Tafari Makonnan, later Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia. (Spellings vary and in some sources Makonnan’s full name is given as Mäkonnen Wäldä-Mikaél Guddisa)
He arrived in Britain on 23 June 1902 for the coronation of Edward VII at the end of the month, which owing to illness was postponed till 9 August. In the unplanned interval he visited Birmingham, Glasgow and Paris. Back in London, he paid an official visit to Windsor, where according to one courtier, ‘he came with a suite of jolly black men who consumed a great deal of fruit at tea’. Before tea, the Ras paid a special visit to St George’s Chapel, to see the burial place of Theodore [Prince Alamayou] , described as ‘the little Ethiopian prince, to whom Queen Victoria had extended her protection’ and upset the Dean of the chapel by saying the memorial inscription was ‘wrongly written’ (no further details)
While in Britain Ras Makonnan sat for portraits: photographs by the Lafayette studio in Bond St, wearing full ceremonial regal, and a watercolour by caricaturist Leslie Ward, wearing plainer robes and seated with his rifle across his knees – such a long firearm that its depiction reaches beyond the sides of the artist’s sheet, and was so reproduced in Vanity Fair six months after the event.
Sunday, 3 February 2013
From In A Tuscan Garden, published anonymously 1902
Returning to the garden entrance, - on the right of the main gravel walk were seven quite good and spacious beds, oblong in shape; the first of these lay just under the little dividing wall of the court-yard, and was raised about two feet above the level of the ground, and bordered with large rough stones, among which I inserted variegated periwinkles; the next, divided from it by a narrow path, lay just below, and both were completely sheltered from cold winds by the stanzone, to the windows of which they extended. Further on were four beds, intersected by narrow paths; in the centre of them we erected a small kind of arbour, or berceau, as it is called here, just to break the somewhat uninteresting effect of so much flat ground, and planted against it honeysuckles of all sorts, and pillar roses. The two lower of these beds were rounded off in semicircle fashion, and along the end of the further one we put a wire fence, and planted climbing roses against it. The seventh bed of this section was a long narrow strip running down under the end of the stanzone. It was already planted with Safrano and Maréchal Niel roses, and I had a deep brick edging made in front of it and at both ends, which enabled us to place a straw covering over it in cold weather. For many years this bed was given up to Neapolitan violets, - this autumn I have had them all transferred to pots, and housed in one of the frames, to leave the bed for freesias, that we may have a sufficiency of these most useful flowers for table decoration, without robbing the pots that stand round the house.
The main garden walk turns down past these beds, and leads to a short flight of steps from which a little door in the garden wall opens on the highroad. All the garden lies on a gradual, but very distinct slope, so that the road beneath is quite concealed, and, in later years, when hedges of roses and shrubs had been established, no one could have guessed that any highroad was so close at hand. The walk followed a curve that made the ground so much wider at this part, and continued past the back of the stanzone, round to the north side of the house.
At this side, under our north-west windows, there lay a large plot of ground, and the rooms on that side, though small, formed a charming summer apartment, entered from the garden by a glass door. They were entirely distinct from the rest of the house, and must at some time or other have been an addition to it. Below the windows were two fine Judas-trees and a very large pittosporum. The former of these were, of course, bare of leaves when we took possession, and I had not the least idea what they were, and only knew that they darkened the windows terribly, and, I grieve to say, I persuaded the villa gardeners to cut one of them down to about half its original height. It has survived and thrown out fresh shoots, but in a maimed and impoverished way. The other is, I think, the finest specimen of this tree I have ever seen, and is a beautiful object in spring, when in full blossom, towering over the stanzone roof. The perfume of the pittosporum, when in flower, is almost overpowering through the rooms on that side. I have only once seen this shrub in England, and that was in sheltered garden in Cornwall, and, oddly enough, it was in the late autumn that I saw it in flower. I took it then to be some sort of daphne, which it partly resembles as to the flower, but its scent is heavy and oppressive, and has none of the peculiar delicacy of the daphne scent. Here in Tuscany it flowers in June, and even in May, if the spring is an early one.