Fastening your robe, 17th century style by Jeannine Cook

As I looked at portraits of 17th century Spanish royal ladies in the Prado, they suddenly offered a fascinating sampling of how women fasten their dresses. Not for them a simple method of closing their dress. Rather, the fastening became part of the bold, imaginative design of the gown, part of the message of power, wealth and circumstance that was so dazzlingly recorded in paint by Court painters.

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Tiles that tell Tales by Jeannine Cook

Medieval and Renaissance tiles from the Champagne-Aube regions of France tell a great deal about early French society. The wonderful tile collection at the Musée des beaux-arts or the Musée Saint Loup, in Troyes allows one to peep into earlier worlds. Even though this world was underfoot!

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Camille Claudel, so talented, so heart-wrenching by Jeannine Cook

Camille Claudel lived in Nogent sur Seine as a teenager, and from there, she was launched into her career as a sculptor, her talent carrying her to Auguste Rodin’s studio and into another complex world. The recently-opened Museum in Nogent sur Seine holds an important number of her sculptures, and offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of late 19th and early 20th century French sculptors.

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Imagine a World without Art or Music by Jeannine Cook

Remarks reported the other day about the role of culture in society left me trying to imagine how our world would be today without art, music, dance, sculpture – not a pretty picture!

Leire Giral, reporting in the Diario de Mallorca, was interviewing mezzo-soprano Maria Jose Montiel before her recital in Palma de Mallorca's Bellver Castle circular keep.  Reflecting the parlous state of Spain's economy and its consequent lack of financial support of any type of cultural activity, she was quoted as saying, "Without culture, our minds cannot develop; art, painting, sculpture, music – all lead to moral growth, the only pathway out of darkness."  She later added that for her, "singing is the voice of the soul".

Maria Jose is right - it was not an idle name that was given in the past to the "Dark Ages" when culture was in very short supply for most people.  Today, when there has been such a flowering of cultural opportunities during the boom days of most countries' economies, we all need to become inventive and diligent to ensure that the arts survive and still flourish.

The mere thought that one could not attend concerts, visit museums and art galleries or read wonderful books drives home to me just how integral such culture is to life.  Without them, the days would be decidedly dull and grim, with far fewer moments of beauty and uplifting delight and stimulation.

Celebrating Art in the Teeth of "the Crisis" by Jeannine Cook

In Spain, everyone knows exactly what you mean when you talk of "la crisis". Town halls, autonomous governments, the national government - they are all pretty well broke and red ink drips in all directions. One of the first areas of government expenditure in the Balearics to feel the effects of this fiscal crisis was the cultural scene. The sixteen years of autumn-winter internationally celebrated ballet company visits - gone. The opera season - decimated. The theatre season - hacked. And so it goes at present.

Nonetheless, there are wonderful bright stars in the cultural scene - private groups fighting back and ensuring that there are events that uplift and delight. Last week, there was a week of celebrating the visual arts and music in a small, jewel-like town, Santanyi, in Mallorca. The first weekend showed off the many local artists, while the second week's musical offerings ranged from popular to zarzuela to the single, wonderful performance of Mozart's Le Nozze de Figaro. Under a full moon, a huge courteous crowd of all nationalities sat in the open to be delighted by a beautifully presented and sung version of this delicious opera. It was so clever - the Teatro Principal's stage gets "reversed" for these outdoor performances so that everyone can sit in the open air; the orchestra is at the back of the stage and the singers' stage projects out against the glowing golden stone walls of the theatre. The quality of the singing was impressive and the whole performance was a reaffirmation of what can be done, in spite of "the crisis".

Yesterday showed the same spirit of joy and defiance for the reigning pessimism. In Palma de Mallorca, thirty-one galleries and museums opened their doors at seven p.m. for a wonderful Nit de l'Art. This annual event is sponsored by the Independent Association of Art Galleries in the Baleares (AIGAB) and the Art Palma Contemporani Association of Galleries, in conjunction with the museums and non-profit art spaces in town.

There was art for all tastes - from late 19th and early 20th century painters famed for their depictions of the natural beauty of the Balearics to the most allusive and fleeting performance art, with all manner of art in between. Interesting techniques, challenging concepts, humour and joie de vivre - it was all there to enjoy as you strolled through the historic narrow streets of Palma on a warm summer evening. Restored 17th, 18th or 19th century buildings, high-ceilinged and quirkily elegant, imaginatively adapted as permanent or temporary art galleries, floodlit golden monuments, strains of music floating down the streets beneath the tree canopy, smartly dressed people of all ages strolling, laughing, studying art intently.

It was a kalidescope of scenes that reaffirmed that the arts need to be part of all our lives, no matter what the economic situation.

What makes art valuable ? by Jeannine Cook

How do we value art? Each of us has a different scale of values and different definitions of art. But there are enough instances when everyone agrees on art being of great value and part of our cultural heritage. I was reminded of this when I heard a discussion on the BBC programme, Outlook, this week, during which there was an interview with Cori Wegener, Associate Curator of Decorative Art at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. She was talking of the efforts to save artworks made almost immediately after the earthquake struck Haiti in January. Heroic efforts were made to rescue and protect the rich and diverse cultural heritage there and they have continued ever since to try and ensure there will be artwork for future generations of Haiti.

Part school, part gallery, this Centre existed for artists  for 66 years. Here ,in 1945, Andre Breton had praised a painting's authenticity and thus put Haiti on the art-collectors' map. (Image courtesy of Alison Wright,

Part school, part gallery, this Centre existed for artists  for 66 years. Here ,in 1945, Andre Breton had praised a painting's authenticity and thus put Haiti on the art-collectors' map. (Image courtesy of Alison Wright,

What impels people to risk their own lives and well being to go in and rescue artworks? It is almost visceral, I suspect, for those who have a respect and love for things of beauty, which are testimony to man's - and woman's - skill, passion, culture, need to create... The list of heroic actions to save artworks of all descriptions is long. When there was the huge fire at Windsor Castle in 1992, the works of art - Master drawings, paintings, manuscripts and books - and furniture, carpets, miniatures and other valuables were rescued. Another time when Cori Wegener became involved directly was after the Baghdad Museum was looted during the Iraqi invasion. Then an Army Reservist, she was sent to help assess the damage at the Museum and help restore the situation. Floods in Florence, Prague or Venice all evoke huge efforts to save art in past years, while an earthquake situation, in Aquila, Italy last year caused enormous distress at the lost of art and architecture.

The list goes on and on, but implicit in all the stories reported in the press is the message: people do care - very much - about art of all descriptions. They consider it important enough to save, even at risk of their own well being. Indeed, there is the Blue Shield organisation, which was set up to protect the world's cultural heritage by coordinating preparations to meet and respond to emergency situations, the cultural version of the Red Cross. Its existence is an interesting assessment of the value of art to mankind.