Lords-a-Leaping

Enjoying the Ice near a Town by Hendrick Avercamp, c. 1620; Knitwear by Alexander McQueen
Handmade items to buy: (clockwise) Hat by D’Aquino; Hat by Irina Sadykova; Scarf by Pille; Scarf by Tweedy Crab; Mittens by Unlimited Craftworks; Scarf by Laima; Bag by Muffin Top Knits

Above the smooth, opaque surface of the frozen lake, thin blades of steel bisect shadows of human and horse flesh, wrapped in fabrics that dissolve into abstract patterns on ice. I pull the carpet closer, careful not to let the curtain tassels touch the ground. The horse takes a sharp turn, sending sparks of ice into the dark, fluid depths of a hole cut ten centimeters deep and twenty wide. They fish and we race. Pale yellow light gives the man’s green coat a sickly tint. He rests the tip of his axe, eyes piercing through my emerald fur, white leopard collar, and embroidered gloves, with the look of a man appraising fresh caught sea bass. The hat amuses him. Stripes of silver and ivory florals sit on a rose canvas just a touch dustier than the horse’s feathered plume. The stiff sugar cake slips sideways on my head and I want his floppy, damp cap. Darts of chill air infiltrate the sides of my nose, half-covered by the black satin mask that hides my embarrassed cheeks. I blush easily, even in the cold.

Enjoying the Ice near a Town by Hendrick Avercamp, c. 1620; Coat by Hermes
Handmade items to buy: (clockwise) Arm Warmers by Tombo Designs; Fur Collar by The Purple Genie; Scarf by Penelope Now; Boots by Sarrah Lady Langley; Wool Socks by Rima and Genute; Tote by Ruthy; Hat by Pika Pika; Scarf by Coco Brown

The smell of starched linen lingers after the skater rushes past, through a gaggle of idle ladies, sidestepping one gentleman aligning his undergarments with no attempt at stealth, and into a pocket of clear ice. One hand behind his back, opposite leg lifted in the air, the skater creates a long shadow that mingles with streaks of red. She’s watching me, he thinks. Her grey veil floats alongside flushed cheeks I’m used to seeing set in finer frames. A young widow, perhaps, eager to outpace the horse struggling against its heavy gold harness. I watch my own breath fade and reappear, more rapidly now, as I escape her gaze and lean into my stride.

Indian Yellow

Autumn leaves just after their vibrant hues start to fade. Sunlight piercing through the crevices of sandstone canyons. Yellow split lentils cooked with curry powder. Sand mixed with the urine of cows fed a diet of mango leaves. Byzantine icons in the twilight of their golden glory. The last third of wild Bashkir honey. The white powder Van Gogh’s sunflowers oxidizing over time. One of these definitions of Indian yellow is fake.

Archduchess Maria Magdalena of Austria by Frans Pourbus the Younger, c.1603; Dress by Zac Posen F/W 2013
Handmade items to buy: (clockwise) Brooch by Kamart; Necklace by Deb Lonergan; Collar by Chez Margot; Ring by Artisanlook; Bracelet by Inbar Shahak; Clutch by Bertina Bags; Ring by Dorota Kos; Clutch by Dikla Levi Harel

In Sophistical Refutations, Aristotle argues that “reasoning and refutation are sometimes real and sometimes not, but appear to be real owing to men’s inexperience.” In the same way, he relates, yellow-colored objects appear to be gold. The pearls in Vermeer’s Woman Holding a Balance absorb the glow of pale light through the window, reflecting off her mustard-colored dress and the Last Judgement, and shed their cool white clothes for a golden mantle. They become even more valuable, surrounded by the coins that determine their exchange value. Against the deep blue folds of heavy fabric, the dots of pigment reflect an alchemic transformation. Vermeer acts like the alchemist, creating objects of greater worth from light and pigment, not only with the pearls but the painting as a whole.

Woman Holding a Balance by Johannes Vermeer; Archduchess Constance, Queen of Poland, c.1603-04
Handmade items to buy: (clockwise) Clutch by Giovanna Giuliani; Earrings by Chiara Bucefari; Shrug by Alvecote Marina; Necklace by Toni; Clutch by Eyespot Designs; Necklace by Sigal Toledo; Pillow by September Home; Bracelet by Talulah Lee

The fake definition of Indian yellow was published in 1886 by the Journal of the Society of Arts in London. Such an expensive and well-used pigment in European painting needed an origin story, so why not invent one about cows and mango leaves. The distance between London and Calcutta was too great to incite any dispute. For Aristotle, viewing things from a distance was how the inexperienced arrived at false conclusions. But in painting, distance reveals more than it obscures, whether you are physically stepping back from a canvas to reconfigure your perception of brushwork, or you are looking with fresh eyes at a wealthy Dutch woman about to weigh her coins.

Semper Augustus

A blood spattered mirror would have aroused suspicion in the garden of Dr. Adriaen Pauw. He was a director of the East India Company in its early years, at the beginning of the seventeenth century. But if you looked closely enough you would see that the wild streaks of crimson belonged to Semper Augustus, a rare and expensive tulip many would have killed for. Dr. Pauw had almost all of the specimens in existence and he surrounded them with mirrors to give the illusion of a whole field. He refused to sell his bulbs, even though each one was worth, for a brief time, more than the annual earnings of many well-off merchants. Paintings, even Rembrandts, were cheaper. Perhaps Dr. Pauw didn’t need the money and enjoyed looking at his tulips, all the while stirring up jealousy in his neighbors. His reluctance made people want the Semper Augustus even more, shaping its reputation as the most beautiful and coveted of tulips.

Still Life by Jan Davidsz de Heem, 1650-83; Coat by Dries van Noten Spring 2014; Massacre of the Innocents by Keith Edmier
Handmade items to buy: (clockwise) Plate by Alice Lasky; Earrings by Tina Roeder; Plate by Cristina Ripper; Ring by Marren; Pillow Cover by Samin; Clutch by Lisa; Mittens by Aurelija; Necklace by Péter Fehér

The stripes and swirls of Semper Augustus were the result of a virus, a spontaneous break of color that occurred once in a hundred bulbs, if that. Whoever thinks beauty is health did not witness the feverish obsession with diseased tulips that swept over the Dutch upper classes. Hans Bollongier’s Still Life depicts a highly unnatural bouquet in a state of decay. No one would have had that many broken tulips, roses, anemones, and carnations. (They don’t bloom simultaneously anyway.) The topmost specimens of Semper Augustus are at the peak of ripeness, but, as you look look down, the petals start to sag and lose their vibrancy.

Still Life by Hans Bollongier, 1639; Bloom by Anna Schuleit; Coat by Dries Van Noten Spring 2014
Handmade items to buy: (clockwise) Earrings by Sarah Davis; Clutch by Tovi Sorga; Pendant by Eli and Leah; Necklace by Eried; Earrings by Mayahelena; Etching by Sally Winter;  Earrings by Amber Sky; Flower by Cristina Ripper

Bollongier undresses the tulip to reveal the diseased, decaying flesh under its fancy clothes. The painting makes a case for its own worth, asking, why bother with the real thing when it will disappear in a few days? But the tulip was not just another pretty flower. Contemporary sources compared it to luxurious cloth, like silk embroidered with gold and silver thread. Broken bulbs did have fine, feathery patterns like the brushstrokes of a Dutch master or the embroidery of a skilled weaver. Just as exotic textiles traveled west via the Silk Road, cultivated tulips were man-made eye candy full of artificial flavors. Dr. Pauw would have known this better than anyone, being in charge of a network that dealt with equal parts pleasure and profit.

Back to the Basics

We were inspired by the Dutch masters to take a close look at everyday household objects in a blue and white palette.

• Hendrik Kerstens’ Portraits juxtaposes the piercing stare, soft lighting, and minimal background of 17th century Dutch paintings with modern day household items like bubble wrap, lampshades, and towels.

• Vermeer’s Milkmaid is luminous in person but the subject matter could not be more ordinary. She is a common servant pouring milk over stale pieces of bread  to make pudding. Like Vermeer himself, she transforms ordinary ingredients into delicious dishes.

• Livia Martin’s Nomad Patterns series of ceramic cups and vessels appear to melt, caught between the moment of being whole and dissolved. So this is what the Mad Hatter’s tea party looks like.

• Leslie’s Soup Bowls are handmade from stoneware clay and glazed with a rustic cobalt blue glaze.

• Home Spun Style’s Table Runner is made from oatmeal colored cotton canvas with three blue stripes.

• Meg’s Napkins are blue cotton screen-printed with the white lines of a planetary map.

• Poppy House Pottery’s Bowl is hand painted with an intricate pattern of dots and vines.

• Melissa Maya’s Mug is hand painted with a blue chevron pattern on white.

• Jennifer Nelson’s Table Runner is made of hemp block printed with a blue blooming branch.

• Jeff LiaBraaten’s Dinner Napkins are printed with a dense pattern of florals.

• Vitreous Wares’ Bowl is perfect for snacks and has bright cobalt and white glazes.

Jump in the Water

If you’re nowhere near the clear waters of a tropical paradise, we’ve got other kinds of cool blues.

• The ultramarine blue of Mary’s dress in Jan Van Eyck’s The Annunciation comes courtesy of crushed lapis lazuli bonded with oil. But the blue doesn’t stay only in the folds of fabric. Van Eyck put touches of it in the stained glass windows, a subtle effect that makes the room look like it’s filled with natural sunlight.

• Katrín Sigurðardóttir’s Foundation for the Venice Biennale this year was a platform covered in Baroque tiles that livened up what used to be the laundry room of a palazzo.

• This Bowl dates back to 1st century B.C. and could be either Greek or Roman in origin. Despite its condition, the translucent cobalt blue is as vivid as the Mediterranean sea.

• Dawn Johnson’s Dinnerware Set includes a bowl and two plates glazed honey brown and matte blue.

• Vagabond’s Daughter’s Scarf is made of habotai silk shibori dyed to look like waves crashing into the shore.

• Nick Suen’s Scarf is Hagzhou silk hand-dyed in a cloud blue pattern.

• Rene Sprattling’s Bowls have a wave-like shape and blue glaze that resemble moving water.

• Julia Paul’s Cups have unique markings of brown glaze wandering through blue.

• Dianne McFarlane’s Brooch is a bouquet of blue enamel flowers on stainless steel.

• Banou’s Ring covers a sterling silver band with shimmering blue resin.

• Miriam’s Bowl has a slate blue glaze and lattice pattern carved into its surface.

Roll the Dice

Yes, I understand that a man might go to the gambling table – when he sees that all that lies between himself and death is his last crown.
– Balzac

• How do you gamble in hell? Hieronymous Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights is a hot mess that we know little about, so that leaves us only to speculate about the Netherlandish painter’s wild imagination. The right panel depicts hell and among its victims is a woman balancing a large die on her head. To her left is a game board with tiny dice and down below is a shield of two fingers holding a die with a knife piercing the palm.

• The Eco Die will tell you which environmentally friendly action you should take if you can’t make up your mind. There are also die for wellness and kind action, cheeky twists on the complicated world of self-help. Let the cute icons decide for you.

• This Ivory Die dates back to 1st century Rome, where it would have decided the fate of many gamblers. Apparently, in some parts of the empire there were oracles where people would seek advice from the gods by throwing dice.

• Bill Browne’s Die is made from solid stainless steel and heavier than most.

• Maya Geller’s Ring submerges a pair of silver dice in black enamel.

• Blue’s Ring has rolling silver dice suspended between a band covered in skulls and fleur-de-lis.

• Andrea Ring’s Earrings are a pair of red dice attached to dark silver hoops.

• Yaeli Nissan’s Earrings are lines of tiny cubes made of gold plated brass.

• Victoria Constable’s Charm is a silver die with its copy buried somewhere in England for future discovery.

• Miwako Okuda’s Necklace is a lucky die suspended from a sterling silver cable chain.

• Rami Elkhatib’s Earrings frames a pair of off-white dice with gear and insulator beads.

Wild Strawberries

It’s strawberry season! Once you’re done devouring boxes of fresh berries, consider prolonging the pleasure with these fine goodies.

• Adriaen Coorte’s Strawberries on a Stone Plinth and Édouard Manet’s Basket of Strawberries depict the bounty any one of us might bring home from the farmer’s market in June. And yet each berry is singular, its markings dependent on a unique relationship between light and seed. Coorte’s berries are perfectly situated, while Manet’s are fleshy, even grotesque the more you look at them.

• Arian Spellman’s Strawberry Jam is made with low sugar and organic strawberries grown in Santa Barbara.

• Lushley’s Strawberries are covered with a thick layer of milk and white chocolate.

• Indiyani’s Macarons have a strawberry flavored shell and are filled with strawberry ganache.

• Kim Cortez’ Jam is made with strawberries and a little champagne for a little extra kick.

• Andrea Galvez’ Jam mixes strawberries with the dark, rich taste of balsamic.

• Jamie Styger’s Thumbprint Cookies are made of shortbread filled with jam and rolled in coconut.

• Gary’s Duo Suckers are split between chocolate and strawberry for those who want a little of both.

• Elizabeth Kelley’s Preserves are made with freshly picked organic strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice for a wide range of dessert recipes.

Peaches & Cream

There’s nothing better than sinking your teeth into a juicy peach in the summer. If you haven’t had that pleasure yet, we’ve got some fresh alternatives.

• Adriaen Coorte sets a dramatic spotlight on his Peaches, exposing the blush pink tendrils on creamy, pale yellow skin. Although lavish vanitas displays are the most well-known of the Dutch golden age still lifes, Coorte’s depictions of market vegetables are, for me, more impressive. He can focus on three peaches, a bunch of asparagus, or a handful of gooseberries and render them with the complexity of a dramatic play.

• This Tumbler with its peach pink glass swirl dates back to 1885 England.

• This Porcelain Dish dates back to 18th century China and has the quirky combination of bats and peaches.

• Susan Dwyer’s Pair of Bowls fade from peach to white on their delicately uneven paper maché surfaces.

• Emy Uhlig’s Tie is made of cotton in a fleshy peach tone.

• Jaime Diehl’s Clutch is covered in peach fabric with a pattern of white dots that resembles pearl necklaces.

• Pegg’s Necklace strings together translucent glass beads in soft, peachy pink.

• Louis Jane’s Silk Scarf has a peach and pink pattern inspired by light hitting water lilies through trees.

• Leah Lerner’s Tote is made of peachy Italian leather with a dark brown strap.

• Miriam Perl’s Cloche Hat is made of straw and wrapped in grosgrain ribbon – perfect for a posh picnic in the summer.

• Joy Cain’s Silk Scarf is pleated and dyed using the Japanese art of Arashi Shibori.

Lemon Fresh

Start your Monday on a bright note with some lemons, ranging from the Dutch Golden age to the present.

• Willem Kalf’s Still Life gives lemons a dramatic entrance. Direct light illuminates their mildly textured surface, reflecting into the ornate silver jug and gold watch. The lemons are casually tipping over a bowl from the Ming dynasty, picked up from distant lands on Dutch trade routes. A twisted gold goblet full of white wine hides in the back. The lemon shows off all of these luxuries for the successful merchants able to acquire them. But, as with every Dutch still life, the painting reigns in such extravagance. Lemon juice was added to wine to reduce its strength. And what about that lemon in the back of the bowl, covered in mold and dried up skin? Its rind appears to have been used for decoration, leaving its juice to waste. A rotting lemon grounds the luxurious surroundings in time, suggesting that all of this wealth will soon go to waste. But the painting won’t. It will remain fresh with the splendor of pleasure and money.

• Kyle Bean’s Brains are made from a luscious selection of lemons, grapes, blueberries, and dark chocolate. You might as well call yourself a zombie.

• Gijs Bakker’s Grape Brooch takes the still lifes of the Dutch Golden age into the present, keeping the same love of luxury. The bunch is a combination of yellow gold, pearls, and diamonds.

• Noémie Pichon’s Earrings are whimsical little berries on feet.

• Emy Uhlig’s Tie is made from solid yellow cotton sure to brighten up any suit.

• These Studs by Miniblings are lemon halves that look good enough to eat.

• Stephanie Dunkin’s Lemons are made from stoneware, so they’ll stay fresh in your fruit basket forever.

• Jorey Hurley’s Lemon print traces the fruit’s uneven edge, and her Meyer Lemons hide behind green foliage.

• Laura Holmes’ Earrings dangle clusters of lemon jade gems from sterling silver wires.

• Susanne’s Necklace strings together yellow felt beads made from organic wool.

Coming in from the Cold

• A stark black-and-white landscape and an unsuccessful hunting expedition don’t sound like elements of a warm and inviting painting. And yet, Hunters in the Snow by Pieter Bruegel the Elder is, like a Jane Austen novel, effortlessly delightful because of its perfect balance and precision. Every detail contributes to the feeling that we are part of this world, overlooking the town with the hunting expedition.

• Nolda’s Ring gets its pristine white surface from a coating of fine silver over sterling silver, and the button is a Dutch design called a Zeeuwse knoop.

• Dace’s White Mittens are exquisitely knitted with a cable pattern and crocheted flower.

• Manon’s Vase is PVC pipe transformed into modern tableware fit for a Flemish still life.

• Jerusha’s Scarf is made of luxurious suri alpaca wool in cream.

• Signe’s Earrings are a pair of knitted wings suspended from metal wing connectors.

• This Necklace by RQP Studio is made using a French wax seal that dates back to the 1840s.

• Gertie Baxter’s Pillow is hand-knit with intricate cable patterns.