Schloss Amras, Innsbruck

I won’t forget Schloss Amras.  I can’t.  What you see there, won’t let go – a portrait of a man living with a spear through his right eye; portraits of the Hair People; an original portrait of Dracula.  And that is not all.  What kind of place is this?

Spear man

Vlad Tepes a.k.a. Dracula

This Castle, on the slopes of the mountain above Innsbruck, was established nearly 450 years ago by Archduke Ferdinand II (1529-1595).  The assembling of curious objects at that time has made the collection rate as the oldest museum of its kind in the world.  Austrians cherish the place, which has a history from the 10th-century, as of their most valuable heritage, a monument to the rebirth of European culture, the Renaissance.

The skull of a reindeer whose horns got stuck in the bark of a tree, the unique collection of armour … the Hall of Art and  Wonders yields one surprise after the other.  The portrait of Dracula had me a touch skeptical, but the portrait of the Hair People were a revelation.

Der Haarmensch von Munchen

The Hair People – a father and his children – were hairy from head to toe, including their faces, making me think of coarse fur.  Pedro Gonzales, the father, was born in 1550 on Tenerife.

Rather formally he posed for the painter in 1580, so becoming a talking-point in Europe.  In the family portrait the mother is present,  smooth and hairless.   The formality of the portraits is striking, perhaps to counter centuries of myths and legends about the figure of the Wild Man in European folklore and elsewhere.

The Wild Man

It was the spirit of the Renaissance that made for the documenting of the phenomenon instead of a superstitious reaction that might well have led to a cruel eradication of “a sign of evil”.  With this particular case and with the various museum spaces at Amras we experience the convergence of science, conservation, appreciation and wonder.  Today there is a medical term drawn from the hair people which originates from Amras.

What would Darwin have said?


© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

July, 2017



« Der Haarmensch von Műnchen » – internet-article

Wikipedia :  Castle Ambras

Encyclopédie des Symboles – “L’Homme Sauvage”

[Notice the variant spelling of Amras / Ambras.]



Schloss Ambras – Wikipedia

Vlad Tepes / Dracula – Pinterest

Spear man  – Pinterest

Haarmensch – formal portrait – Pinterest

Haarmensch – detail  –  Pinterest

L’homme sauvage – Encyclopédie des Symboles








They argue about his name.  He is not Jacques, they insist, it’s Joseph.  He is worthy of the attention:  he left his mark on the city of his birth, more than a mark.  Born in Antibes in 1650, he is considered by some as a master sculptor.  The work he did in the Cathedral of St Mary, the main cathedral in the city, bears out this opinion.  At the portal you see what he was capable of, as intriguing a character, as he was mysterious,  in the history of Antibes.

                 Cathedral Portal

               Portal relief figure


               Portal relief figure

These relief figures depict legends and stories from the Bible, detailed work in the spirit of baroque, fitting if one considers too, the classic baroque of the church façade.  In the church we see the pulpit and the baptism font, both his handiwork.

                        The Pulpit

                             Baptism font

He attracted attention, especially if one considers the competition at the time from many Italian sculptors.  The Sun King, Louis XIV, came to hear of him and he went north for a few projects.  In Antibes there is too, his master work The Portal of France, a majestic Gate with a finely-fashioned pediment, that we know from a postcard.  But, the tourist office informed me, it is in a state of advanced neglect, with buildings around it making it virtually impossible to see.  On the reverse side of building, as a kind of compensation for the neglect, a pediment in full view of the street has been constructed, but the detail, I’m told, is clearly inferior to Dolle’s original work.  To add insult, it is recorded in the archives that he was never paid for this work.

It is also a story of creeping hatred.  For certain reasons he was not popular amongst the aristocracy, perhaps because of his humble origins.  Badmouthing poisoned his life.  He was stained with supposed paranormal activities.  One piece of scandal had it that, in the garden of a wealthy marquis, Dolle trafficked with white female spirit.  It was subsequently found that the “white spirit” had in fact been a marble Venus figure, from the time of the Romans.

His health deteriorated and he withdrew from life to the Monastery of Laghet where he dedicated himself to God.  Shortly before his death, − it was the year 1730 − he returned to Antibes, to the white marble figure in the garden of the marquis, the Venus that he had never forgotten, the figure that haunted him yet.  The next day they found him lifeless at her feet.



© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

August, 2017



Pierre Tosan : Dictionnaire d’Antibes Juan-Les-Pins. HEPTA Antibes, 1998.


Portal panels – my photos

Pulpit, baptism font – Dictionnaire d’Antibes Juan-Les-Pins

My drawing.



The four of us woke in the campsite of Toledo in Spain.  The previous evening we had enjoyed a tasty paella on a terrace overlooking the dramatically floodlit Toledo, one of the most architecturally-unified places I have seen.


At breakfast I had an inexplicable urge to tell a story that I had heard as a child.  The others listened.

  Once a young woman had the promise of marriage from a young man who was a soldier.  The promise took place in the church below the crucifix.  The young man went off to the wars and returned some years later.  She reminded him of his promise, but he denied having made it.  She dragged him into the church and at the crucifix she appealed to the Christ-figure.  At that moment the right arm of the figure broke from the horizontal beam, forming a diagonal.  The young man married the young woman.

Oh, my fellow-travellers said, and we went off to see Toledo.  It is a city of doors, august portals of carved wood.  We visited El Greco’s house, he who said “Art is everywhere.  Just look for it.”  We ended up with the Cathedral, magnificent as these places are.  At the foyer there were supplies of pamphlets encouraging tourists in different languages to visit other sites.  One of the pamphlets caught my eye because of its photograph – a crucifix with one arm at a diagonal.  The church was Christ de la Vega.  “There is an interesting legend attached to this church,” the pamphlet said and told the story. “Once a young woman had the promise of marriage from a young man who was a soldier.  The promise took place in the church below the crucifix …”

On the way out of Toledo, we stopped there, bidding the custodian of the church, an ample peasant lady, to open for us.  She produced a key a little shorter than her forearm and with a twist, she unbarred the doors.

Christ de la Vega

There it was – the crucifix who had witnessed the young man’s promise and bore witness to it again years later.

It is, of course, a deposition scene, with the figure supporting the right arm having disappeared over centuries.

                    Deposition Scene

Yes, I have searched every possibility as to why that particular story came to me at that moment in that place.  I cannot explain away the “coincidence”.  The mathematical odds are simply overwhelming.  And the meaning of this strange event?  I don’t know.


© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

July, 2017



A leak from another dimension?



Toledo –

Christ de la Vega – postcard

Deposition scene – Yoonik images

See too, Die Marmer Arm on







What did they leave behind?  They were in Provence for at least two centuries.  Some say not much.  Perhaps the name Maures Mountains, 80 kms west of Antibes.  But there is much more.

                        Maures Mountains

From the seven hundreds to the nine hundreds they were a formidable force along the coastline of Provence.  To the north there were epic battles with Frankish forces.  It is said by some that, if Martel’s battle with the Saracens at Poitiers in 732 had not been successful for him, Europe would have become Muslim.  Other historians question this.  That a large part of Spain was under the control of Saracens until 1492 did not make things easier for the populations of France.

                            Bay of St Tropez

The Andalusi Saracens from southern Spain invaded what is today the Bay of St Tropez.  The year was 889.  1,155 years later the Allied Forces would also invade Provence through the same Bay.  The Andalusis established Fraxinet (near today’s La Garde-Freinet) and this would serve as headquarters for various activities, one of them, the piracy in the mountain passes of the Alps.

We think these days of great national units and find it hard to grasp the political splintering of that time.  Halfway through the brief history of the region in his book “Midi”,  André Brink writes, “Wait, it only gets worse.”

                 Medieval portrayal of Saracens

To cut a long, convoluted story short,  the Saracens of Fraxinet were defeated in the Battle of Tourtour in the year 973 by William, Liberator of Provence, as he is known.  The Muslim dream of establishing colonies in the south of France was dashed.

Did the Saracens leave anything behind?  Europeans called them moors and today French surnames like Mouret, Maurin and Mauron bear witness to that.  The Andalusis of Fraxinet were not only warriors:  they brought, amongst other things, buckwheat to the shores of France.  The rounded towers characteristic of the buildings of that time in Provence are architecture from north Africa.

     Vestiges of architecture from north Africa

In Mougins, 20 kms north west from Antibes, there is still the Saracen Gate from which Christians kept a watch on Saracens in the area of modern-day Cannes where, for 80 years, they had a foothold.

The Saracen Gate, medieval quarter of Mougins

In Antibes there are street names that speak of Arabic presence across the centuries – Chemin de Maures, Avenue de la Sarrazine.  The iconic tower at Les Remparts was called Le Tour Sarrazines, also serving as a look-out.

                   Avenue de la Sarrazine

Le Tour, also called The Saracen Tower

In the Rabiac cemetery in Antibes there are Muslim graves, those who died alongside the French in World War One.  In this cemetery there is a monument to the Hakis, those who aligned themselves with the French in the Algerian war in the late-1950s and, with the outcome of the struggle, fled to France.

               Muslim graves, Rabiac cemetery

     Monument for the Hakis,                 Rabiac cemetery

The complexity of the situation reaches its highpoint in the terrorist attack on Bastille Day in Nice, 2016.  The very first of over 85 victims was a fifty-five–year-old woman with the name Fatima Charriki, a dedicated Muslim and lifelong a French citizen.  It is estimated that nearly a third of the victims had Arabic ancestry.  From this there has appeared the book “Ma mère Patrie” (My Motherland)  by Hanane Charriki, the daughter of Fatima.


                            Hanane Charriki

© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules,  Antibes

July, 2017



Wikipedia:  History of Provence

Article:  Robert W. Lebling: “The Saracens of St Tropez” (Aramco World,  2011)

Dictionnaire de la Provence et la Côte d’Azur (Larousse, Paris 2002)

Blanchet, J-M. Turc, R. Venture : La Provence pour les Nuls (First Editions 2012)


Maures Mountains –

Bay of St Tropez  –

Saracen soldiers  –

Round tower   –

Saracen Gate, Mougins – my photo

Le Tour – my photo

Avenue de la Sarrazine  –  my photo

Rabiac Muslim graves  –  my photo 

Hands Monument  –  my photo

Attack in Nice  –







The Marble Arm – Pieta Bandini, Florence

Is this arm the greatest sculpture that I have seen?  I’m not even sure what the question means.  I speak of the arm of the depositioned Christ-figure in the Bandini Pieta by Michelangelo.  It was an early dusk when I wandered into the Duomo, the main cathedral in Florence.  I found myself amongst a tourist group, with their guide holding forth on Michelangelo’s Pieta.  Uninvited, I listened.

Bandini Pieta., Florence (1550)

He spoke of the dramatics concerning this group of figures in the last years of Michelangelo’s life.  Perhaps, for reasons of his own, Michelangelo had taken the group to pieces.  He was long past seventy at this stage.  It is reported that, despite his dissatisfaction with his benefactor, that he loved what he had done and sensing that he was not far from death, said, Why must I die now, when I have learnt to use the chisel? At a later stage, perhaps after his death, the group was brought together again, using metal links.

This group, one sees, is an irregular collection:  the figure supporting Christ on the right is out of proportion, clearly not Michelangelo’s work.  The remaining figures do not have the touch of the master.

But it is the arm of the deceased Christ that moves me, that arm dangling in death, in contrast with the flowing lines of the body.

       The marble arm

The arm hangs a little skew.  Each anatomical detail is there, lovingly brought from the marble.  For me, this figure portrays death more vividly than the famed Pieta in the Basilica at Rome.  The Pieta in St Peters is an image of sadness and peacefulness.  Both figures are attractive, almost untouched by suffering.  But the arm of the Florence Pieta is drained of life, broken by pain, tragically defeated.

Including himself in the Deposition scene

What strikes me too, is that the figure above Christ.  It is generally considered to be a self-portrait of Michelangelo.  To include himself in this deposition scene, probably because, originally, this group had been intended for his own grave, is a statement of intimacy that is beyond words.

            Da Volterra portrait of Michelangelo


© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

July, 2017



Wikipedia Bandini Piëta



Marble group –  pinterest

The arm –

Self-portrait –

Da Volterra portrait of Michelangelo –









       Bronze mask of Dionysus

Here he is – dramatic, arresting, with his beard like spokes radiating to the world … a bronze mask of Dionysus, also known as Bacchus, his hair alive with bunches of grapes.  The eyes still have the gravity of the ancient cult, a seriousness that has been lost in our popular culture.

This mask, displayed with pride in the archaeological museum, was found in 1980 in the remains of a shipwreck in waters around Antibes.  It is estimated that this ship, heavily laden with amphora of wine, came to grief between 80 and 60 B.C.  The mask was saved from the plunderers.


Homer names him a lesser god, but Dionysus, even though his mother was a mortal, was part and parcel of the Greek pantheon, the greatest soap opera in the world.  And before too many centuries had passed the cult was bursting at the seams.  By 300 b.C. the cult was widespread and had a vast following.

Dionysus in British Museum. Note the people.

Dionysus is linked to fertility, agricultural and human.  He is the patron of theatre and the creative arts.  He embodies ecstatic religion, strongly promoted by his status as the god of vineyards, wine-making and, probably, the intake of wine.  Under him there is a hierarchy of personages, some of them beautiful and sensual, not wearing too much, others sporting horns from their foreheads and who play the flute to gazelle.  Still others are half human, half horse.  Interesting company.


With the rise of the Romans, Dionysus not only gets a new name, but a smaller hat.  Another few centuries and dour Christians would put a stop to all this jollity.  Two millennia later his bronze mask would be lifted from the seabed around Antibes.

Here he is and I don’t know why I think of it now, but a long time ago, before I was a teen, and long before I knew about Nietszche’s thoughts on Dionysus, I wondered how it would be if they pushed the pews aside in the church.  And danced.


© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

July, 2017



Delaval, R. Thernot : Objets d’Antipolis. (Mémoire Millénaire, Antibes. 2011

Delaval, R. Thernot (ed.): Aux Origines d’Antibes (Musée d’Archeologie, Antibes.

M. Cazenave (ed.) : Encyclopédie des Symboles (La Pochothéque, Műnchen, 1996.)



Dionysus photo of poster – Will  

Dionysus head  –  Wikipedia

Bacchus image –







Portrait of a kiss as a windscreen wiper

From my puppyhood I learnt you kiss Daddy.  In that second decade, the use remained and yet not.  I began to see that there were different practices in different families and then different regions, cultures, other countries.  I think about this here in France where people kiss one another like windscreen wipers, and yet not everyone.  The social codes seem to dart around – understand me if you can!   I notice that the President of America (Obama) applied this windscreen wiper to diplomats and politicians in the Middle East.  I wonder if it is catching.

                  Windscreen Wiper Left

                  Windscreen Wiper Right

I’m adapting.  (That’s me with the white hair.  The man is Stéph, Claudie’s son.)  After some years, I wonder how long it takes.  These customs have been scrutinized in academic circles for quite some time.  The Anglo-Saxon cultures find the Latin encroachment on their proxemic space difficult to accept.  In my years teaching township children I was force fed.  There, the concept of “space between people” is entirely different.

The windscreen wiper in France between men will probably be judged as taboo in South Africa.  When my friend fetches me at Cape Town airport, he can relax after the barrier of a handshake has been set up!  Interesting how cultures can diverge on such basic things.  For the Frenchman and the Spaniard (to a lesser extent) the windscreen wiper greeting is part of the day, part of the centuries.  The Anglo-Saxon has dark associations with it  −  it is simply not a manly thing to do.  It will be interesting for me if Norwegians, Swedes or Danes could prove me wrong.

The world is a big place.


©  Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

July, 2017



My curiosity.



Photographs taken by Claudie Mader  and used with her permission.




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