Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Lord Dunsany and the Treasures of Hungary

The two are not connected, of course. Lord Dunsany was one of my favourite writers as a child, his weird, enigmatic folktales short and sharp and affecting. Yesterday I acquired a letter he'd written to the young Penelope Betjeman (then Chetwode). He was a big influence on my writing at school. Having the letter on my desk is wonderful, it's as if he will walk into the room at any moment, pick it up and post it. Dunsany was somewhat of a hero: not only was he deeply literary, he was also the best shot in Ireland. Why aren't people like that any more?

I then pottered down to the Royal Academy: entering it was like walking into a shrine, with an atmosphere of sacerdotal hush. It was positively packed with beauty: and lots of pictures that, alas, do not seem to be very widely available on the internet - although perhaps that's why they're treasures. In particular I enjoyed two drawings from Giuseppe Cades' series illustrating Orlando Furioso (which has been haunting me recently: I've just finished reading a new novel by Russell Hoban, in which the hippogriff returns to find his lost Angelica). There was also a wonderfully witty Apollo and his Muses with Fame: Apollo sits snoozing under a tree, surrounded by the Muses' cast off clothing - they've got the afternoon off, and you see them cavorting in the nearby vegetation. Above, Fame flies somewhat sternly, looking at her watch (metaphorically speaking, of course.) It was by Lorenzo Lotto. Two more very striking pictures were Corner of a Room by van der Heyden, which showed a luxury of interesting pieces - a Japanese spear, and so on, and looked as if one might actually be able to walk into it; and Landscape with a Village Scene near Tivoli by Karoly Marko the Elder, which was endowed with incredible warm luminescence.

One of my favourite books of last year was about Hungary: it was about Matthias Corvinus, the Raven King, and his library, by Marcus Tanner, a fascinating - even gripping - account. I thoroughly recommend it to anyone, bibliophile or not. To buy it, click this link: The Raven King: Matthias Corvinus and the Fate of His Lost Library

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