Ice Age art: arrival of the modern mind – Jill Cook

Th absence of reindeer could mean that the representations are not purely concerned with important food animals, whereas the preponderance of mammoths, horses and lions within the known sample of works suggests an aesthetic and psychological interest in animals that please, fascinate and generate respect even today. If the animal sculptures were worn, were they simply ornaments, did the wearers wish to identify with the qualities of the animal or was the creature a spiritual helper?

The book that accompanied one of my favourite exhibitions at the British Museum, it has taken me a good long while to read this, in it’s coffee table hardback format, although recently it has given me a resfreshing break from Westeros as I plough through all 486 books of the Song of Ice and Fire saga.

Covering the width of Europe, Cook evaluates the fascinating array of objects from the Ice Age, from small anatomically correct miniatures to large scale cave paintings. While I would suggest that this is not quite a casual read, due to the subject matter, if you have even a slight interest in this, the book is interesting and accessible.

Brilliant pictures that mostly sit within the correct place in the text (i.e you can see the object that you are currently reading about, it’s not 4 pages on) and detailed analysis, as humans developed the ability to abstract from themselves and nature, create musical instruments, life like representations of the world around them in miniature and ornamental form. Sculptures that took a high number of hours to create through manual labour, but seemingly have no practical function. Others provoked a lot of thought, such as the miniatures that had holes so they could be worn as a pendant or necklace. However they would be upside down, so that the creature would need to be held up to be the correct way up and appreciated, completely opposite of how pendants and necklaces are worn today.
The chapter on the female form is particularly interesting, how much did these people know of conception? The highly stylised depictions of expectant mothers amongst the female sculptures lead to any number of conclusions. Later depictions of the female form are so stylised there were certain objects where I thought the idea that they represented females was completely made up.

Mostly hypothetical, we can never know, but well thought out analysis is given by Cook as to the reasons or suggestions she gives behind the pieces. She also notes the difficulty in some respects, where initial interpretations are coloured by they prevailing thoughts at the time of excavation, such as the 1800’s.

The more the objects are studied the more theories abound. As the objects become more detailed or stylised, they effectively took the maker out of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle for hours if not days at a time, this meant that others in the group would have to sustain them, indicating the importance of the objects they were crafting. Some of these were deliberately smashed after, for reasons we will never know. For practical tools this is understandable, for what could be considered works of art, it is less clear, particularly examples of worked beads, each one taking two to three hours to complete, and from materials that would have had to have come from a hundred kilometres away.

The carvings, engravings and drawings of animals on stone, antler, bone, tusk are incredible, particularly in the cases where they are anatomically correct, even down to hair and features, some were in miniature, some were massive cave paintings, were they decorations, weapons or functional tools. Cook give’s expert analysis, but even so there is still a part of your mind that says, surely we can never know what any man or woman was thinking 17,000 years ago?

And maybe we can’t, but we can give it a well thought out analysed guess, and that’s exactly what Cook does here.

The frieze is placed 3m above the floor of the chamber and is one of several in the Nave that would have required some sort of scaffolding to enable the artist to work. Like the ivory swimming reindeer from Montastruc and the La Vache engraving, it is a reminder of how much time and effort had to be put in to the artist’s work. Collecting and preparing pigment, making and maintaining torches and lamps, as well as making ladders or platforms required an investment in art that reflects its value and significance to the community.

A Storm of Swords 1: Steel and Snow – George R.R. Martin

Outside its tall carved doors stood two guards in gilded halfhelms and green cloaks edged in gold satin, the golden rose of Highgarden sewn on their breasts. Both were seven-footers, wide of shoulder and narrow of waist, magnificently muscled. When Sansa got close enough to see their faces, she could not tell one from the other. They had the same strong jaws, the same deep blue eyes, the same thick red mustaches. “Who are they?” she asked Ser Loras, her discomfit forgotten for a moment. “My grandmother’s personal guard,” he told her. “Their mother named them Erryk and Arryk, but Grandmother can’t tell them apart, so she calls them Left and Right.”

Onto book three of the continuing trials of House Stark. At the end of their clashes, three of the four kings were left standing, Renly having been dispatched by the shadow of his brother Stannis, birthed from the lady in red (I don’t remember that in the song), oh plus Mance Rayder, the self styled king of the north, so really, we’re still at four..

What’s this though, Catelyn has freed Jaime, relying on his honour (in case you’ve forgotten, Jaime is the Kingslayer, so called after he killed the king he was sworn to protect) to free her daughters from the clutches of Joffrey and Cercei. I’m sure that will work out just as planned. Jaime’s brother, the ever delightful Tyrion has been all but disowned by his father, his reward for saving Kings Landing it seems, Go family Lannister.
It’s not much better in the Stark household. Confined to her chambers after releasing Jaime, Catelyn attends her father Lord Hoster, who seems to have been on his deathbed since the beginning of book one and wouldn’t surprise if he made it to the end of the series in delirium. Sansa is dropped as Joffrey’s bride (result) in favour of Renly’s betrothed, but then discovers she may well be kept on as a bit of fun for the young king (oh). She seemingly finds an ally in the Highgarden’s, who want to marry her off to the new bride’s brother. Not the young and beautiful Ser Loras? she exclaims! No, the knight of flowers is not the groom, rather his crippled younger brother, and as time goes by she dreams the dreams that maidens dream about their future husbands, and grows into the idea, which is just well really..because there is a wedding in her near future..
Way up north, Jon has jumped sides (but not really) to the wildlings, where he discovers why Mance Rayder left the Nightswatch. Was it for the warm embrace and love of a good woman? No. Was it for revenge against those that wronged him? No. Was it to be King? No. It was for a cloak, a good a reason as any, it gets cold beyond the Wall. Anyhoo, he’s proved he’s on their side because he’s bedded Ygritte, and that’s just as well as he survey’s Mance’s massive host as it lumbers towards the Wall. The advanced party duly scour it and when he’s a mere half a lake away from Bran (unbeknownst to both of them, it seems this family are doomed to get close to each other, but not actually meet, probably at least until book seven), he takes the opportunity to change sides again, a mere arrow in his thigh the price.
The Night’s Watch will probably have him back though, they were routed by Wight’s and the Others and a sorry straggle trudge back in the freezing cold to the wall, but not all of them will make it back that far, but an unlikely hero with a useful sword is among them.

Arya, who still just wants to go home, is having more travails that Odysseus himself. She falls in with Lord Beric, who has a suspicious number of lives it seems, but who has a flaming sword no less! No one tell Stannis. The straight up King’s brother is licking his wounds and pouring of maps of what will absolutely most definitely be his Kingdom, all of it!

After releasing Jaime, Catelyn is ostracised by everyone, including Robb, her own son and King, and she frets and mourns and mourns and frets, particularly when, in spite of my brave prediction that he would outlive the series, Lord Hoster finally passes away. The main reason she frets is because Robb has married some slip of a girl, which is a bit of a slap in the face to Walder Frey, so her brother is quickly betrothed to one of Frey’s broods to bring him back on board.

While heading back to his family, Jaime begrudgingly bears bits of his heart to Brienne, a woman who seemingly gets under his skin. He’s just been misunderstood, that’s all, he did what he did for the good of them all, honest, he did. However, unsurprisingly, they are captured by Vargo Hoat, and he wants to send a message to Lord Twyin, who may as well have his own problems, as the Dornish are riding in for Joffrey’s wedding, and they don’t seem too happy.

Meanwhile Bran, who escaped Theon’s butchery at Winterfell, is heading north with his little band to find the three eyed crow, the same one that annoyed him as he plunged from the window, thankfully he’s taken Hodor with him though, I think I would miss the Chewbacca of Westeros if he was to leave the series.

Finally, Daenery’s learns a bit about what her future holds, but is pretty peeved that one of her dragons is the cost for eight thousand unsullied and so razes Astapor to the ground, well she puts a bit of fire about, and so her army forms and her gaze slowly but surely turns towards home..

“I am your man, your Grace. So it is your tongue, to do with as you please.”
“It is, ” he said, calmer. “And I would have it speak the truth. Though the truth is a bitter draught at times. Aerys? If you only knew…that was a hard choosing. My blood or my liege. My brother or my king.” He grimaced. “Have you ever seen the Iron Throne? The barbs along the back, the ribbons of twisted steel, the jagged ends of swords and knives all tangled up and melted? It is not a comfortable seat, ser. Aerys cut himself so often men took to calling him King Scab, and Maegor the Cruel was murdered in that chair. By that chair, to hear some tell it. It is not a seat where a man can rest at ease. Ofttimes I wonder why my brothers wanted it so desperately.”