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  • The Temple veil torn

    fe2ca5100806c5094d1384f1c1d9522a.jpgLondon's most ancient Inns of Court, the Inner and Middle Temples, are celebrating their 400th birthday. They are doing it by letting the hoi polloi in their hundreds tramp through their exclusive acres. One highlight was a talk by Lady Butler-Sloss, former President of the Family Division and some time Coroner to the Princess Diana Inquest. She dismissed the Home Office as hopelessly inefficient and the new Justice Ministry as a thoroughly bad idea which she hopes will be dismantled as soon as possible.

    Between the Embankment and Fleet Street lies a complex of buildings and gardens that together form a self-governing liberty, independent of the City of London. Oldest is the 12th century Round Church, built by the crusading knights templar to recall the circular church of the holy sepulchre in Jerusalem. Master of the Church Robin Griffith-Jones was fairly spell-binding in a 30 minute talk on the church's history. The Da Vinci Code got almost as short shrift as the knights templar, once King Philip IV of France decided to find them guilty of urinating on the cross and ritualised sodomy. Griffith-Jones conceded some sections of the order may have been guilty of these crimes, but the sin of the majority was to be part of a highly powerful organisation that acted as royal bankers - and refused Philip IV a loan.

    The buildings passed to the Knights Hospitalier and then in 1608 James granted them to the Inns of Court, on condition they maintain the church equally and that they educate and house legal students. The south side of the church is in the care of the Inner Temple, and the other is maintained by the Middle Temple - so that when rival organs were being tried out in 1682 an armed guard had to be maintained to prevent the Inner Temple sabotaging the victorious Middle Temple's instrument, and vice versa.

    Sir Walter Raleigh, Dickens, Attlee, Ghandhi and Nehru were all once members here. We visited the chambers of John Cherry QC and were shown the clerk's room and their impressive rolls of red tape (which are in fact pink). I expected Rumpole at any moment.

    The Middle Temple hall has a stunning hammer beam roof begun in 1562 which is 'perhaps the finest example of an Elizabethan Hall in the country'. This is where Twelfth Night was first performed in 1602. Unlike the Temple Church and Inner Temple Hall, the blitz left it relatively unscathed, thanks to fire watchers on constant duty with buckets of sand and brushes to push incendiaries off the roof.

    Though it is modern, the hall of the Inner Temple matches the style of the 18th century structures around it. In the Parliament Chamber, one of the country's most senior former judges spoke about the judiciary and the Inns of Court. There was something surreal about the ease with which we took our seats in this establishment holy of holies. Lady Butler-Sloss must be legal royalty, since she has the clipped accent of the Windsors - but she was far from standoffish. She praised the collegiate structure of the Inns of Court and the tradition of dining and partying together which means judiciary mix equally with barristers and their pupils.

    Perhaps because she had noticed that, unusually, she knew few members of her audience, she became mildly indiscreet at question time. The European Courts were championed for their ability to 'trump' the Government and the new Justice Ministry, which attempts to administer courts, prisons and the probation service, was trashed along with the 'hopeless' Home Office. We were told the Mohamed Al Fayed had employed a total of 60 lawyers to work on the Princess Diana Inquest.

    For the fascinating surroundings and the warmth of our welcome, an entirely satisfying visit. 

  • Getting into a lather with Millais


    You have until 13 January to see the Tate's latest blockbuster: a seven room survey of the entire career of Sir John Everett Millais (1829-96), perhaps best known for his Ophelia and 'Bubbles' the Pears soap boy.

    The greatest painter of his day produced what was then regarded as his greatest painting in 1854-6. The blind girl is a colossally garish exercise in high Victorian sentimentality. Patronisingly, we are asked to sympathise with the poor blind girl, who is unable to appreciate the sudden brilliant sunshine and rainbow that decorates a lead-grey Winchelsea sky. The two girls are awkwardly plonked down on a stream bank and (like several other of his paintings of the time) seem about to separate from the background. The 'pathetic' scene is completed with an improbably applied butterfly on the blind girl's right arm (delicate beauty she will never appreciate) and a toybox collection of country creatures which is randomly strewn across the irridescent meadow behind them.

    e6b37d7adcda9c46522cc798a0122096.png Isabella (1848-9) was Millais first painting as a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. It is both unsettling and unsatisfying. On the right a pink tunic wearing Lorenzo offers fruit to his Isabella, whilst a disapproving servant looks on. Lorenzo's face looks cut out and is curiously lit. On the left Millais casts some of his own friends, the affectionate reality of their portraits at odds with the fantasy scene across the table from them.

    But it's not all bad. Millais was indisputedly an incredibly talented and highly precocious artist and draftsman. That we find his themed works not to our taste is perhaps because they were the soap operas of their day. We get these kicks from Eastenders and Corrie.

    6684e361000c62fc6d639b4b8dda15f8.png The Black Brunswicker (1859-60) is another exercise in popullist melodrama, only this time Millais has resoundingly pulled it off. On the eve of Waterloo a soldier departs to his death. Agonised, his wife tries to prevent his departure, her hand pushing the door closed as he opens it. As she gazes sadly at her imploring lapdog, an etching of Napoleon hangs behind them. The painting is quite sumptuous, the composition perfectly suited to its remorseless narrative. The work sold for 1,000 guineas and made Millais' reputation.

    cfa255385731083e696f4423104b3aa1.jpg By 1864 Millais' style had evolved considerably. In 'Leisure Hours' (the quotation marks are the painter's) he has painted the Pender sisters as perfect ornaments, trapped in enforced idleness just as much as the goldfish in the bowl in front of them. The paintwork is a little looser and without distractions. The blank stares and suffocating stillness of the composition all add to the narrative, unlike some of his later portraits of women and children, which contrive to be either sickly sentimental or alienatingly haughty.

    12b7d53ed05d3e9c3172b8978090b434.png Painted at the same time, Esther (1863-5) shows brilliant mastery of the decorative use of colour coupled with an understated and elegant composition. Esther releases her hair as a gesture of defiance to entice a king. Compared with Whistler's full length female portraits and admired for its 'flashing whites' by Rossetti, this is a very satisfying work.

    fdcc7857b6fd09dfff1a81e76e815fa9.pngIn his later period Millias painted some fine political portraits, inspired partly by Velasquez and Rembrandt. I was particularly taken with The Rt Hon. WE Gladstone, MP, (1878-9). Isolated of all props, Gladstone is austere, almost a visionary. With even looser brushwork and dramatic lighting, this is Millais at his most compelling.


    In 1878 Millias was grief stricken at the death of his second son George Grey. He painted 'The tower of strength which stood Four-square to all the winds that blew'. – Tennyson as expiation and it makes an interesting comparison with Constable's Hadleigh Castle, on view at the RA and painted in similar circumstances. Urqhart Castle on Loch Ness is a Romantically ruin, dissolving in uncertain, smudgy paintwork. The overpowering sea and sky are thick with expressive paint, against which the heroic lone oarsman battles.

    Millais' last works are an elegy to the Scots landscape. In them the painter achieves a kind of apotheosis.