Shoes: Pleasure and Pain

I went to the V&A’s Shoes: Pleasure and Pain exhibition on a whim and was pleased that I did.  As you can probably guess, the exhibition offers a large array of weird, wonderful, quirky and seemingly uncomfortable footwear spanning centuries and continents.

The V&A puts on fantastic exhibitions and this one was just as inventive, with various film extracts, music, and a wall display of shoe boxes.

My personal shoe collection is a bit sparse but even if like me you don’t have a shoe fetish, Shoes: Pleasure and Pain is definitely worth the visit.

“This obsession with shoes just really struck me, and how it’s gone on. Through social media, it’s in our living room. I wanted to go into why are we who we are in shoes? And so often they are not really made for our feet, which are actually quite wide. Fashion is a different thing,” – Helen Persson, Curator, Shoes: Pleasure and Pain 

Images: Victoria & Albert Museum


Japanese Inro

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 08.20.06 Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 08.20.33 The Victoria and Albert museum holds a gorgeous and somewhat quirky collection of traditional Japanese inro.  From the late 16th century, Japanese men suspended inro from their pocketless kimonos as a means to carry medicines or personal identity seals.  However, they soon became costly fashion accessories with little practical use.
Images: V&A museum

Ishtar Gate

I [Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon] covered their roofs by laying majestic cedars length-wise over them.  I hung doors of cedar adorned with bronze at all the gate openings.  I placed wild bulls and ferocious dragons in the gateways and thus adorned them with luxurious splendour so that people might gaze on them in wonder” – Part of the dedicatory inscription on the Ishtar Gate.

Built around 575 BC, the Ishtar Gate became the eighth fortified gate of the ancient city of Babylon, a region now in modern day Iraq.  Today, its remnants are housed in the Pergamon Museum as a testament to its scale and grandeur.

During the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar II (604 – 562 BC), the already ancient city of Babylon was rebuilt and “beautified”.  As part of the walls of the newly expanding and rejuvenating city, the Ishtar Gate was erected as a dedication to the goddess of fertility and love, Ishtar.  In antiquity, Ishtar could also be called upon in times of battle to seek courage, protection, strength and victory.  Her representation in the form of a lion can be seen in the Processional Way leading towards the gate, which would have undoubtedly intimated and warned foreigners of Babylon’s power upon their entry into the city.  The depiction of dragons also signifies the presence of the patron god of Babylon, Marduk, whereas bulls symbolise the god of storms, Adad.

The reconstruction of this once Seventh Wonder of the Ancient World does not fail to impress. The intense mixture of red, orange, yellow and, of course, blue tiles overwhelmed me as I tried to imagine it in its entirety.  This seemed like an unfathomable task.  Moreover, what we see before us in an Ishtar Gate and Processional Way reduced in size due to limited space within the Pergamon.  I was left wondering what the modern day equivalent of the Ishtar Gate might be, something that I am still yet to find an answer to.

A stunning piece of art and architecture that should be treasured for centuries to come, it is unsurprising and understandable that Iraq has appealed to Berlin for its return to home soil.

Fra Angelico


Last weekend I was back in Berlin and stopped off at the Gemäldegalerie, a gallery displaying European art from the thirteenth to the eighteenth century.  There were many masterpieces on display, including those from artists such as Raphael, Caravaggio, Bruegel and Botticelli.  However, tucked away in a side room was a painting which distinguished itself from the great masters’ works:  Last Judgement by Fra Angelico.

Painted in 1431, the extensive use of gold caught my eye as it illuminated one small corner of a room.  Upon closer inspection, the celestial beauty of Christ and the angels contrasted with the terrifying depiction of the devil demanded every inch of my attention.

On the left hand side of the triptych is heaven.  The figures in this section are granted space and serenity, their hands loosely clasped in prayer as their bodies appear to float gracefully towards God and heaven.

At the top of the centre section, Christ is surrounded by angels, saints and Mary. Christ’s right hand is raised, with His left hand directed towards hell condemning those who have sinned.  At the bottom of the middle section are figures whose fate is yet to be decided.  They are kneeling, pleading for saviour as souls are carried over to hell by unusual, dark creatures.

In the right hand section sits the devil, a horned black monster that appears to be eating one of the damned souls.  He presides over the torture as figures are burned, stabbed and force fed molten liquid.  In contrast to the calming nature of heaven, the condemned bodies are tightly pressed together, their torment manifesting itself as they eat their own and other’s flesh.

Anguished faces, torture and dripping blood would be enough to deter anyone from sinning.  I can imagine the powerful impact of this triptych in 1431.  Even I moved away from the painting with a lasting sense of unease.