Friday, June 29, 2007

Day Thirteen In London

Wednesday, September 12

Leighton House
The Museum Of The Royal College Of Music
Saint Mary-Le-Strand Church
Saint Clement Danes Church
Saint Paul’s Church
The Sainsbury Wing Of The National Gallery Of Art

We will begin this day much later than usual. We will do so because the previous day started so early, and ended so late, and because the first attraction we intend to visit this day does not open until 11:00 a.m.

We will have a very late breakfast at our hotel—we will not eat breakfast until 9:30 a.m.—and at 10:30 a.m. we will leave our hotel and walk to our first attraction of the day.

That attraction is Leighton House, home of painter Frederick Leighton. Leighton House is within easy walking distance of our hotel.

Leighton House is supposed to be one of London’s finest and most unusual 19th-Century residences. According to art experts, the architecture and interior design of Leighton House exemplify the Victorian Aesthetic Movement. The high point of the house is supposed to be the fabulous Arab Hall, with a fountain and cupola, friezes and mosaics, and Islamic tiling collected by Leighton on trips to the Middle East.

The house also has many paintings on display, including almost 100 of Leighton’s own canvases, as well as paintings by other late-19th-Century British painters.

Myself, I cannot stand Leighton’s works, but his house is supposed to be truly extraordinary, and I very much want to visit it, and so do my parents. Josh and my brother are lukewarm about visiting Leighton House, but they are happy to go for a visit--once.

From Leighton House, we will take a long and leisurely walk through Kensington, stopping en route for lunch somewhere, until we reach The Museum Of The Royal College Of Music.

The Museum Of The Royal College Of Music is small and musty, and its displays are cramped and not well-presented, but it is sort of an interesting museum, and it is only open on Wednesday afternoons. It is worth 60 or 90 minutes, and my father is certain to enjoy the museum.

On display, mostly, are musical instruments, the oldest of which dates back to 1460. The museum owns keyboards formerly owned by Handel and Haydn, as well as brass instruments allegedly once owned by Elgar and Holst. An amazing number of lutes and guitars may be viewed, including the guitar of David Rizzio, secretary and advisor of Mary, Queen Of Scots, brutally murdered in 1566 while attending the Queen.

When we exit the museum, we will walk to South Kensington Station and take the subway to Temple Station, right on the Thames.

From Temple Station, we will walk to Saint Mary-Le-Strand Church, situated in the middle of The Strand. This is a small but gravely beautiful church, designed by the same architect that designed The Church Of Saint Martin-In-The-Fields. Some architecture critics believe this church to be London’s very finest church from the English Baroque, an honor I accord to Saint John’s, Smith Square, which has far greater originality and flair, I believe. Saint Mary-Le-Strand is, nevertheless, a small and perfect masterpiece. Two very fine Mather Brown paintings are hung near the altar.

From Saint Mary-Le-Strand, we will walk The Strand until we reach Saint Clement Danes Church, another church situated in the middle of The Strand. We will make a lengthy visit to this church.

Saint Clement Danes is a large Christopher Wren church (with a steeple later added during the Baroque period) that was entirely destroyed during the war, only to be rebuilt in the 1950’s.

Saint Clement Danes is the principal church of The Royal Air Force, and it contains many relics of British and American air divisions, as well as a very moving commemorative book containing the names of the 1900 American airmen killed during World War II.

It is an extremely beautiful church, with a galleried interior, Corinthian columns and a circular apse.

My brother and I have visited this church many, many times, and over the years we have befriended the church vector, who always remembers us and who always heartily welcomes us, and we go see him every time we are in London. We hope that he is still there, so that we may introduce him to our parents.

We will explore the church’s exterior, and interior, and crypt, and examine the many artifacts on display. This is one of my favorite London churches, and I am always deeply moved whenever I visit this church.

Outside the church is a statue of Arthur Harris, on which German visitors routinely spray graffiti. There is also a statue of Air Chief Marshall Lord Dowding, on which German visitors do NOT spray graffiti, presumably because they are not as familiar with Lord Dowding as they are with Arthur Harris.

Incredibly, on two occasions, my brother and I have witnessed German visitors berate British citizens over the issue of World War II air campaigns.

In 2003, we observed a German visitor berate the vector of Saint Clement Danes over the bombing of Dresden. The vector would have none of it, telling the German fellow, pointedly and dismissedly, that the Germans had reaped what they had sowed.

In 2004, we observed a German visitor berate an old pensioner working as a guide at the museum of The Royal Hospital, Chelsea. The old Chelsea pensioner gave as good as he got, and the German visitor began screaming—literally screaming—at him. My brother walked over to the German visitor and stared the guy down. The German stopped screaming, and left the museum.

From Saint Clement Danes, we will walk over to Covent Garden and visit Saint Paul’s Church, also known as “The Actor’s Church” because of its many thespian affiliations.

Saint Paul’s Church is filled with monuments to famous actors, including recently-deceased ones, and it is a beautiful church, of great simplicity, designed by Inigo Jones. The back of the church faces Covent Garden's plaza. The church entrance is located in the middle of a city block, almost hidden from public view. There are sizable gardens at the church entrance, and the gardens are beautiful and peaceful.

From Saint Paul’s Church, we will walk over to Trafalgar Square and enter The National Gallery Of Art’s Sainsbury Wing and have dinner in The National Gallery restaurant.

Afterward, we will tour The Sainsbury Wing of The National Gallery Of Art. The Sainsbury Wing displays paintings from 1300 to 1500, and it is open until 9:00 p.m. on Wednesdays.

We will not spend our time going through the entire Sainsbury Wing, because we will already have seen a great deal of art earlier in the day at Leighton House.

Instead, we will focus our attention on a handful of key masterpieces: the legendary “The Wilton Diptych” by an unknown British or French artist; Duccio’s “Virgin And Child, With Saints Dominic and Aurea”; Ugolino Di Nerio’s “The Way To Calvary”; Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s “A Group Of Poor Clares”, a fresco painting taken from The Chapter House of Siena Cathedral; Giovanni Bellini’s “The Dead Christ Supported By Angels” and “The Doge Leonardo Loredan”; Antonello Da Messina’s “Portrait Of A Man”, which generally hangs next to “Leonardo Loredan”; Robert Campin’s “Portrait Of A Woman”; and Jan Van Eyck’s “The Arnolfini Portrait”, one of my very favorite paintings in the entire world (and one of my brother’s, too). My brother and I never go to London without visiting and paying our respects to “The Arnolfini Portrait”, which has become an old friend to us.

When we have completed our concentrated tour of The Sainsbury Wing, we will go to Charing Cross Station and take the subway back to our hotel.

It will be an early evening for us, and I suspect that all of us will welcome this.

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