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Archive for the ‘Illustration’ Category

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The Llwyd Eagle – Week Fifteen of the Oswestry Heritage Comics

Llwyd Mansion is one of Oswestry’s oldest buildings, and pretty difficult to miss as you walk through the centre of town. It stands on the corner at the bottom of Bailey Street, and is a fine seventeenth-century timber-framed building with some Victorian and later amendments. It’s had a hard life, I think – for a building to have survived that long in the centre of a market town means a lot of chopping and changing, not all of it sympathetic. One of the first things even a casual visitor to Oswestry will notice about the house is the large, double-headed eagle on the side of the building – with the words “Llwyd Mansion, 1604” around it. Why?

The story (as related by John Pryce-Jones, in his various histories of Oswestry – the original source I suspect being the antiquarian Edward Lhuyd) is that an ancestor of the Llwyd family – Meurig Llwyd – “distinguished himself” at the Siege of Acre in Jerusalem (1190), and was awarded the right to use the double-headed eagle by the Duke of Austria, Leopold V of the Babenburg dynasty (Given Leopold’s later enmity with King Richard, stemming from his humiliation by the English King at the end of the siege, Llwyd’s decision to use this on his coat-of-arms is an interestingly anti-English one – but that’s another story!). But why a double-headed eagle? The double-headed eagle is an old symbol of the Byzantine empire. It appears in Europe in the 10th century as a religious symbol and possibly as a heraldic insignia associated with the Byzantine title of basileus. The Greek historian N. Zapheiriou (The Greek Flag from Antiquity to present, 1947) has suggested that the symbol may have been the family arms of the Byzantine Emperor Isaac I Komnenos (1057-1059). Certainly the symbol can be found in the Byzantine empire and in Europe (on several carvings in Bulgaria and France, for example) as far back as the 10th century. Duke Leopold’s mother was the Byzantine princess Theodora, a daughter of Andronikos Komnenos, the second eldest son of the Byzantine Emperor John II Komnenos. So the double-headed eagle may have been part of the family or personal insignia of Leopold either through his relationship with the Komnenos family, or through various undocumented Babenburg heraldic relationships to the Holy Roman Empire possibly dating back into the previous century.

However, the only problem with this is that the eagle on Leopold V’s Ducal seal is not double-headed, but single-headed. And there is no reference in all of later Babenburg heraldry to double-headed eagles, only single-headed ones. The double-headed eagle does not become associated with Austria until it’s common adoption as the symbol of the Holy Roman Empire, some three hundred years after the siege of Acre. It’s almost certain that the banner of Leopold V – in keeping with the shield displayed on his seal – had on it a single-headed eagle, not a double one; and that  Llwyd was granted the use of this single-headed eagle by the grateful Duke. If this is the case, how did the head of the eagle become doubled? It’s worth noting that the round plaque on the side of Llwyd Mansion is not original – that is, it does not date from 1604. In old photographs of Oswestry you can clearly see that it (or another double-headed eagle) used to be painted or mounted directly into the render of the wall itself. What we see today is almost certainly a late-Victorian plaque, put on at the time the building received its nineteenth-century additions (as noted in the building’s scheduling). By the 1870s at least, the double-headed eagle was firmly set as the coat of arms of Meurig Llwyd:  (Nicholas, Thomas, Annals and antiquities of the counties and county families of Wales; Section V (Old and Extinct Families of Merionethshire, published 1872). What might have happened is that nineteenth-century antiquarians, on hearing that Meurig Llwyd received grant of the emblem of an eagle during the Crusades, confused that with the double-headed eagle associated with the Byzantine Empire (and/or the Holy Roman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, etc.).

And so the double-headed eagle on the side of Llwyd Mansion has become part of Oswestry’s heritage – perhaps less as a reminder of Crusader heritage and more as a fragment of nineteenth-century antiquarian imagination?

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Panel from “Radiocarbon Dating” comic for CAIS

Thank you to everyone who organised this year’s “Carbon Meets Silicon” symposium at Glyndŵr University in Wrexham. It was a fascinating event, full of extraordinary ideas and some really interesting projects. The symposium was all about the intersection of art and science, and I gave a paper in the morning about the comics I’ve been doing on archaeological science for the Center for Applied Isotope Studies at the University of Georgia. Pages from these comics are up on display in an exhibition at Oriel Sycharth at Glyndŵr University.

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Oswestry Castle Excavations – Week Fourteen of the Oswestry Heritage Comics

At the centre of Oswestry – literally and figuratively – stands Oswestry Castle. The lynchpin of the original Norman foundation of the town, the Bailey quickly became the hub around which the market and civic life of the town revolved. And still does revolve – the town’s guildhall, its Powys Market, library and town offices still all cluster at the foot of the castle. The original Norman castle and bailey were timber, quickly replaced with stone – but that stone keep was badly damaged during the Parliamentarian siege of the town during the Civil War, and the remains were torn down sometime in the 1650s. So most people only know the castle from the C.19th redesign of the mound as a public garden. A circuit of footpaths now wind around a pleasant arboretum of Victorian specimen trees – and the only sign of the ancient castle is a stump of masonry poking up at the summit of the mound (along with another lump which is actually a relocated bit of the old mediaeval town wall).

So it has been something of a surprise over the past few years to see how much of the castle’s original foundations, plan and detail the Oswestry Castle Research Project has managed to reveal. This year, once again, the project’s team of volunteer local archaeologists is back atop the mound, opening new trenches along the remaining lines of the keep’s foundations. The excavation is well worth a visit if you’re in town – the Director, Roger Cooper, is always keen to explain the site to visitors and show off the latest finds (which, this year, include munitions dating from the Civil War siege). And later in the year, Roger will be giving presentations about the excavations locally – so it’s worth checking the schedule of talks for the Corwen and Dee Valley Archaeology Society and the Oswestry and Border History and Archaeology Group.

Oswestry’s castle is something of an overlooked gem. Perhaps not as visually spectacular as Old Oswestry hillfort, it nevertheless is – literally – central to the town’s story, and the current excavation project is long overdue and very, very welcome indeed.

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Heritage Open Days – Week Thirteen of the Oswestry Heritage Comics

Every year, the whole of England gets a chance to celebrate our shared history, archaeology and heritage in this weekend-long festival. This year, dozens of venues all around Oswestry are holding special events for visitors. There’s tons to see and do – if you’re interested in history or archaeology, like museums or excavations, are curious about re-enactment or living history, then this weekend is for you! All around the region, from Whitchurch to Chirk, historic houses and heritage sites are throwing open their doors and doing something special – showing off what makes heritage important and interesting. Places like Park Hall, Whittington Castle and Chirk Castle are hosting re-enactment events, there are steam trains running at the Cambrian Railway, and special exhibitions at the Oswestry Town Museum. It’s a weekend full of things to do for the whole family.

And around Oswestry, there are some particularly exciting special and one-off events taking place this year: a chance to get behind the scenes of some of Oswestry’s most iconic and important heritage places.

You can:

And much, much more. The Oswestry Heritage Roadshow will also be up and running, on the Bailey all weekend, right next to a display all about the Oswestry Heritage Comics – so drop in and say hello! For a complete listing of all Heritage Open Day events taking place around Oswestry – and beyond! – check out their website.

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Oswestry Heritage Roadshow – Week Twelve of the Oswestry Heritage Comics.

We are all connected to our local heritage through our personal and family histories. All of us have some kind of connection to the events which have shaped our world. And we all have something in our possession which remind us of those connections: a photo, some letters, a recording, a badge, a crumpled concert ticket. It’s surprising, though, how many of us fail to realise how interesting those kinds of connections and that sort of history is.

Well, here’s a chance to share them! During the Heritage Open Days weekend (Sept. 9th and 10th), on the Bailey in Oswestry, we’re going to be launching the Oswestry Heritage Roadshow. This is your chance to tell us about the things in your family history that are important or interesting. Bring along an item – a photo, some letters, a medal; something, anything – and tell us the story behind it. Tell us how this small object fits into local, county, national or even international history. We’ll have audio recorders there if you want to put your story down on tape – or you can just write it on one of our forms. We’ll be collecting together these stories over the next nine months, and we’d like to exhibit some of them at Qube at some point.

And I’ll be looking out for a couple of those stories to turn into Oswestry Heritage Comics – which will appear in the Advertizer!

So, stop by the Roadshow stall at the Bailey during Heritage Open Days weekend – or look out for us later in the year. There will be more information about the Roadshow, including special events and exhibitions, posted regularly on the Oswestry Heritage Comics Facebook page. If you can’t come to the Roadshow itself, but would still like to tell your heritage story, just fill in the form below:

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Casal’s Necklace – Frank Netter (via printmag.com)

I’ve been teaching archaeological illustration at a field school for the past three weeks, and it’s always interesting watching students coming to grips with technical visualisation. As ever with students, one is confronted sometimes with questions and observations that one hasn’t anticipated. In between discussion of pen-nib sizes, conventions and stippling, we talked a bit about context, and whether or not archaeological illustration pays enough attention to the need for artefacts to be presented within some kind of meaningful contextual framework.

Recently, I was given a copy of an anatomy book illustrated by Frank Netter. Netter was a medical illustrator who worked between the fifties and the nineties, producing hundreds of medical visualisations of anatomy and pathology. His beautifully-rendered paintings were notable for a point of view that deliberately evoked the wider bodily – and sometimes, psychological – context for the anatomical or pathological focus of the image. Tumours, rashes, burns, breaks and ruptures were always shown in great detail – but often as not, so too was the rest of the arm, leg or torso, showing where and how that injury or illness affected the area around it. It was not uncommon for Netter to show not just the limb or body portion that was the main focus for the illustration, but the head and face of his imaginary subject as well – showing their expression, and often their discomfort, pain or even embarrassment. In this way, Netter managed to give his precise scientific visualisations a sense of context; a sense of empathy.

Netter’s paintings demonstrate how choices made during the process of creating an illustration, painting or other rendering can greatly impact the way in which visualised data is understood by its audience. His deliberate decisions with regard to framing pathology within a human-scale context makes it almost impossible to ignore the human-scale impact and consequences of that pathology.

Such an approach is often lacking in archaeological illustration. Despite the wider acceptance of theoretical positions advocating a stronger and more human contextual framework for reconstructions of past lifeways, etc., our technical illustration – our artefact and finds drawing – still resists efforts towards contextualisation. Most illustrators, myself included, have, at one time or another, tried to provide such a framework – but by and large these visualisations remain novelties, and not part of standard practice – largely, I suspect, because the aesthetic used in providing such context contradicts the conventional aesthetics of artefact illustration.

But conversations with the students over the past three weeks have made me think again about the value of providing context to artefacts – and Netter’s work suggests a way in which the aesthetics of both might be brought together. It’s something I’m going to be thinking about a bit more in the future.

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Late Bronze Age Achaean Warrior, for DIG magazine issue 1710.

It’s not all comics, you know! I’m still providing illustrations for Cricket Media’s archaeology magazine, DIG. Every issue they have a “Let’s Go Digging” section, all about current archaeological projects. The splash page for the section is a big illustration based on the articles that follow. It’s often about sites and periods I know nothing about, which is both interesting and something of a challenge. But every so often the artwork is for a period or a site which I know well.

This month’s illustration was about the Trojan War – specifically, how interpretations and reconstructions of it have changed through time. The brief from the art director was to come up with an illustration that reflected this. So I decided I would use this as an opportunity to paint something I’ve wanted to for a long, long time: an Achaean warrior from the period of the Trojan Wars, as reconstructed by Peter Connolly. Like most other historical and archaeological illustrators, I’ve always been a huge fan of Connolly’s meticulous – but still highly imaginative – approach to evidence and data. He work manages to both convince and surprise in equal measure. He was a master of taking what survived and extrapolating a solid, practical but still inventive past from it. You can see his interpretations and conclusions echoed in so many current works (Osprey’s Roman series being an obvious example). Part of the reason for that was his hands-on approach to the evidence: “reconstructing” for him meant creating a physical replica, not just painting an image of one. And even when he did “just paint”, he took the same approach – his buildings always looked not just like places you could walk around in, but places that people had made: solid things of earth and stone, weight and presence; his armour always looked like something you would actually wear: sturdy, dependable, with lots of practical details like leather edging to stop wear. It’s no wonder that his work is often visible in the arms and equipment of re-enactors – Connolly’s illustrations always have the look of being drawn from “real life”, even if that was thousands of years ago.

So my illustration here is a homage to his work. I’ve tried to make this Achaean warrior’s armour and equipage look solid, practical, dependable – plausible, and, hopefully, real.

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