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The Witch of Napoli by Michael Schmicker – Janet’s Review

Detail Naples

Lost in Reverie by The Bay of Naples with the volcano Vitruvius as part of the backdrop recorded by Italian portrait and genre painter Giuseppe Castiglione (1829-1908)

Things that go bump in the night or inanimate objects which suddenly leap into life have never really piqued my interest until I read Michael Schmicker’s new book, The Witch of Napoli, which is among the top 100 best sellers on Amazon.

Suspenseful and a huge amount of fun the central character is Alessandra Poverelli, a medium whose skill at contacting the spirit world has come to the attention of believers in psychic phenomena and sceptics who aim to prove Alessandra is just like all mediums – a fake.

Of historical interest The Witch of Napoli is set in Naples in 1899 amidst a lively, mostly poverty-stricken Neapolitan society eager for the next sensational event to be reported in lurid detail by tabloids of the day.

The story is narrated by Tomasso Labelli, a young photographer, who attends a Spiritualist séance.

John-William-Godward-A-Roman-Matron

Late 19th century Italian woman in classical dress, John William Godward

He is hoping to improve his standing with his newspaper editor by taking photos which pander to the public’s latest fad: communicating with the dead.

He is not disappointed.

The séance is conducted by the unconventionally beautiful medium, Alessandra Poverelli. Alessandra has garnered a rep amongst wealthy recently bereaved Neapolitans as a medium who can deliver and deliver Alessandra does – when the table she is sitting at levitates Tomasso clicks into action and takes a shot which changes both their lives forever.

Alessandra and her ability to invoke the spirit world captured in black and white, Tomasso’s photograph is front page news and so is Alessandra.

Camillo Lombardi, a wealthy Jewish psychiatrist, arrives in Naples to investigate. Camillo convenes a séance to see whether Alessandra has the gift of second sight or whether her gift lies somewhere between trickery and illusion.

Convinced Alessandra is the real deal when the ghost of his dead mother makes an appearance, Camillo puts a proposal to Alessandra: he will finance a tour of the Continent, to prove to scientists and sceptics alike that her psychic powers are genuine thereby establishing a new branch of scientific research.

Alessandra’s mother died when she was six years old, her father, murdered not long after, she escaped village life to live a precarious existence on the streets of Naples.

SchmickerThis tragic beginning to Alessandra’s life is compounded by her marriage to the local Mafia boss, Pigotti, a thug who beats her and steals the money she earns from séances.

Author Michael Schmicker (pictured) has provided a creative description of late nineteenth century to early twentieth century European life skilfully and convincingly written, the séances are both intriguing and exciting.

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China: Qianlong Emperor – NGV Arts and Cultural Conversation

Forbidden city by Castigliione

CHINESE, Envoys from vassal states and foreign countries presenting tribute to the Emperor Qing dynasty, Qianlong period 1736–95 coloured inks on silk 365.0 x 219.5cm courtesy The Palace Museum, Beijing

The exotic appealing sounds of Chinese traditional music heralded the beginning of a social and cultural conversation now taking place between the people of Australia and the People’s Republic of China at the National Gallery of Victoria, 27th March – 21st June 2015.

The NGV International are providing a platform for showcasing A Golden Age of China and its hidden treasures, a truly sumptuous array of costume and decorative arts produced during the rule of the Qing dynasty, highlighting the reign of the Qianlong Emperor, 1736 – 1795, the longest living emperor in Chinese history.

The arts both visual and performance are a wonderful way to create an ongoing dialogue between our cultures that can only expand. All the 120 works on display come from the Palace Museum inside the Forbidden City in Beijing, which is this year celebrating ninety years since its establishment.

There are sublime examples of calligraphy, fine porcelains, glorious jades, superb cloisonné enamel, intricately and wonderfully painted scrolls, stunning textiles, glorious gold and silver with coral, precious stones and pearls, turquoise wares, kingfisher feather hairpins, painted snuff bottles and all the accoutrements of a scholar including a superb cloud scroll carved scholar’s table.

Qianlong was in charge when Chinese influence on western culture began to intensify. This was also when China was ruled by the Manchus, who, to the mainstream population the Han Chinese, were foreigners.

It was Qianlong Emperor’s ability to adopt Chinese ways while honouring his Manchu traditions that made him one of the most successful emperors of the Qing dynasty.

Empress doing her hair

JIN Tingbiao, Chinese active c.1750–68, Chinese beauty putting flowers in her hair Qing dynasty, Qianlong period 1736–95, coloured inks on silk 222.0 x 130.5 cm (image and sheet), courtesy The Palace Museum, Beijing

He particularly appreciated the Confucian principles of political and cultural leadership as he successfully governed its 150 million Chinese people.

The visual feast of paintings and objects from the Qing imperial courts includes great portraits of the Qianlong Emperor and extraordinary paintings of life in eighteenth century China. The show is presented in five separate sections; Manchu Emperor, Son of Heaven, Imperial art under the Emperor’s patronage, Imperial art of religion and Chinese scholar, art connoisseur and collector.

According to a Chinese adage “Knowledge comes from seeing much” a particularly apt comment for students. Representing major sponsor Rio Tinto, Phil Edmands Managing Director explained that while doing commercial business with China is important for his company, he and his colleagues seek a deeper engagement with its people. It is all about establishing mutual trust, helping to promote greater cultural awareness while strengthening the understanding between our cultures.

NGV Director Tony Ellwood thanked Mr Edmands and Rio Tinto for generously providing the entry cost, opening the door to the exhibition free for every school child in Victoria.

This is certainly a noble gesture, one providing wonderful opportunities for the next generation to learn from and be inspired by the philosophical and intellectual ideas of another culture, reflected in its visual art forms.

There is a focus on those recorded for history by Giuseppe Castiglione (1688 – 1766) an Italian Jesuit priest who arrived in China in 1715 where he passed his life at the Court of Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong Emperors.

Fabulous Black Chinese Robe

CHINESE Empress’s sleeveless ceremonial surcoat, Qing dynasty, Yongzheng period 1722–35, satin, 140.0 cm (centre back), 124.0 (hem width) The Palace Museum, Beijing – in situ at the National Gallery of Victoria

The scale of works and space given over to providing a perception of being inside the glories of the Forbidden City is indeed impressive.

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Passionate Pursuits

Fashion Elixir Quick Snippets of Culture Carolyns Conversations

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