Sunday 20 August 2017


I've gone back to school - well technically further education. One part involved studying a painting or three and I had to look deeper into it and explain ..... things. Anyway, I've never been a great fan of daubs on canvas, to me a picture is a picture and I'm certainly able to appreciate an artist's abilities - to call abstract or conceptual art 'art' is, to my mind, nothing short of a lie so we'll ignore it - but when it comes to reading hidden messages and ideas, it's not going to happen people. I sort of know what the Da Vinci Code is about and good bad or indifferent, I'm never going to read it as I won't be able to relate to it.

So I'm wandering through Birmingham Art Gallery and thinking of anything other than brushwork, colours, hues, and textures, thus getting nowhere fast. Concentrate Poulton-Smith, says I, and I did - I focused in on their names and, as always happens I begin to wonder where there names originated. Hieronymus Bosch, was he really named after a dishwasher? Let's see.....

Bosch, Hieronymus - is a Germanic name first seen as a Norse personal name in the 7th century and derived from buski meaning 'bush'.

Botticelli, Sandro - no surprise to find it is Italian and means 'little boot'.

Burne-Jones, Sir Edward Coley - has a hyphen, but I still didn't find his work overly captivating. His name, without the hyphen, has two elements with the first meaning 'the son of Bran' and the latter 'son of John'.

Canaletto - this wasn't actually his name, he was born Giovanni Antonio Canal and painted city views of Venice. His true surname means exactly what you would think it should.

Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi - we know it comes from Sicily, just outside Palermo, we also know it is a very localised name and is a variation of Caro from carus or 'beloved'.

Cezanne, Paul - his French ancestry can be traced to their long-held seat in Languedoc, their name is related to Czar, Caesar, Kaiser, and 'king'.

Constable, John - listen to old policemen, none of them will ever say the word as 'con'-stable but as 'cun'-stable. The latter is correct because it harks back to the Old French word conestable, which doesn't mean 'policeman' but refers to a 'steward' or 'governor', he the principal officer of the Frankish king's household. This is also the reason we don't say the suffix as if it were a place for horses but clip it to rhyme with 'stubble'. Yet taking the office back a stage further to the Roman Empire we find Latin comes stabuli, quite literally 'count of the stable'. John Constable's ancestors will have earned their name as one of them was chief groom of a household.

Correggio, Antonio Allegri - an Italian chap who painted some nice images, but I can't help thinking how awkward the poses he paints these semi-naked (at best) figures. If anyone had to pose for these they'd need a few days applying embrocation (now there's a word you don't hear often). His name shares its first element with Caravaggio in caro 'beloved', this time the suffix is known and is derived from the personal name Bixio, this meaning 'grey'.

Degas, Edgar - a Frenchman who takes his name from gast meaning 'untilled'.

Delacroix, Eugene - another Frenchman, with a name meaning 'of the cross' from the Latin crucis.

Durer, Albrecht - a German painter who derives his name from 'to endure'.

El Greco - as we all know is Spanish for 'the Greek'. His real name is Domenikos Theotokopoulos, whose surname translates as 'god-bearing chick'.

Fra Angelico - his real name was Guido di Pietro, the surname coming from the personal name Peter.

Gainsborough, Thomas - comes from a Lincolnshire place name meaning 'the stronghold of a man called Gegn'.

Hals, Franz - a name from als meaning 'a high cliff'.

Hogarth, William - is a place name meaning 'lamb enclosure'.

Holbein, Hans - a Germanic surname literally meaning 'hollow leg'. Either this came from the earlier sense of 'hollow bone' (ie no leg) or might have evolved from Holzbein or 'wooden leg'.

Da Vinci, Leonardo - this Italian name means comes from Latin vincere 'conqueror'.

Manet, Edouard - is a Germanic name meaning 'fierce, strong man'.

Matisse, Henri - his surname comes from the Hebrew name 'Mattathiah' meaning 'gift of the Lord'.

Michelangelo - his full name was Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, the latter from the personal name 'Simon' which comes from Hebrew name Shim'on and ultimately from the Hebrew verb sham'a 'to hearken'.

Monet, Claude - could be from one of two personal name, Hamon or Edmond. These are from the Germanic for 'home' and French for 'prosperous protector' respectively.

Munnings, Sir Alfred - a name of Scandinavian origins in maningi meaning 'valiant, strong' depending on the context.

Murillo, Oscar - a Latin origin, where murus meant 'wall'.

Picasso, Pablo - is a Spanish word, where picazo means 'magpie'.

Pollock, Jackson - a place name found in Strathclyde, Scotland which is derived from Gaelic poll 'pit', the name showing the diminutive and thus 'a small pit'. Clearly we need a larger pit to be dug to deposit his supposed art and for those who hail it as art.

Raphael - in full Raphael Sanzio da Urbino, the Italian name coming from Etruscan uruvo meaning 'limit, border'.

Rembrandt - again known by his given name, correctly this is Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, a Dutch surname meaning 'the Rhine river' - the river name simply means 'to flow'.

Renoir, Pierre-Auguste - began as the French surname Renouard, originally a personal name of Germanic origins from ragin wald 'the ruling counsel'.

Reubens, Paul - his surname can be traced to Hebrew Reuben meaning 'behold, a son'.

Reynolds, Joshua - amazingly Mr Reynolds not only shares an artistic talent with Renoir but also shares the origin of his surname.

Sisley, Alfred - his surname comes from the female personal name Cecilia, this from the Latin caecus meaning 'blind'.

Stubbs, George - takes the name of a village near Pontefract in Yorkshire, a place name coming from stybb meaning 'tree stumps'.

Sutherland, Graham - comes from an Old Norse word suthroen and means 'the southern land'. It is a reference to the former county of Sutherland, itself as far north as it is possible to get in Britain. So why 'southern land', I hear you ask? Well it comes down to perspective, for it is southeast of those who named it, the Norsemen.

Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri - another with a hyphen, no wonder he was considered talented. The first elemeny, Toulouse, is a place name in the Haute-Garonne region of France and of unknown origins; while Lautrec is found in the Tarn department of southern France and, listed as among the most beautiful villages of France, is another of unknown origins.

Turner, Joseph Mallord William - his surname comes from one of two equally plausible origins. If this is Old English then it comes from a craftsman, a maker of objects in wood, metal or bone which had to be 'turned' during the production process. Or if Middle English then this could represent a title, one in charge of organising proceedings in a tournament.

Van Dyke, Sir Anthony - from a Germanic word meaning 'of the ditch or dyke'.

Van Eyck, Casper - a Dutch surname meaning 'of the oak tree'.

Van Gogh, Vincent - a Celtic term related to Welsh coch meaning 'red'.

Velasquez, Diego - either Portuguese or Spanish would give the origin as 'of the crow', a reference to features and this a nickname.

Vermeer, Johannes - this Dutch painter's surname is a contraction of 'Van der Meer' or 'from the lake'.

Whistler, James - no not exactly 'one who whistles' but a reference to a player of a pipe or flute.

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