On this day in 1535 sun dogs appeared over Stockholm. Now, sun dogs (of which more in a mo) are not that unusual, but what is special about this particular appearance is that it led to the earliest ever depiction of sun dogs, by an artist called Urban Målare (olde worlde names are great, this one translates as Urban the painter).
Now for the science bit. A sun dog is the common name for a parahelion or parahelia. It is an atmospheric phenomenon which creates bright spots of light, often on a halo, either side of the sun. Sometimes, they appear in pairs, sometimes there is only one. They are always at the same level as the sun (hence, para = bedside/alongside). So, that’s what they are, how do these magical little doppelgänger suns come about? They are made up of ice crystals, generally in high cirrus clouds, but if the weather is very cold they can be found drifting lower in the air. The crystals act as prisms. bending and refracting the sunlight that hits them. Depending on how the crystals are aligned you can get halo effects around the sun, but generally as they sink they line up and that’s when you get sun dogs. Because of this sun dogs are almost always seen when the sun is lowest in the sky, either near sunrise or sunset.
Now we know what they are, we’ll return to Urban the painter. There was a reason for him painting the phenomenon in the sky and nice as it would be to think that he had merely been moved by the beauty of the three suns and the pretty halos, alas, it was far more prosaic than that. In 1523, Sweden had elected a new king by the name of Gustav Vasa. He wasn’t having an easy job of ruling his country of disparate provinces, many of whom weren’t keen on him. There was also the problem of potential invasion by Denmark and the influence of the Hanseatic League. This stuff all made him wary with a tendency to paranoia. Add into this mix his determination to bring Protestantism to Sweden and, well things were a little on the difficult side for Gustav.
However, Gustav found a mate in a clergyman called Olaus Petri, who was preaching about reformation at the time. He invited him to
Stockholm, they got on. Then Petri got married – the little tyke – got excommunicated by the pope and him and the king got closer. All was going well on the reform front until Gustav got a bit Henry VIII about it all, i.e. looting churches and monasteries and stuff, and Petri was all “Whoa! Slow down, King dude, what you’re doing is a bit off!” So, that’s where we are when on 20th April 1535 we get sun dogs over Stockholm.
Sun dogs were not unknown at the time, so the populace weren’t all “Oh no, the world’s gone mad, there are three suns, tomorrow we die!”, but Petri – apparently – was truly perplexed by what their appearance right then might mean. He got hold of Urban the painter, told him to paint it, which he did, and then Petri plonked it up in his church and gave a sermon about it which was a little bit critical of the king. The painting was called Vädersolstavlan, it is the first painting to depict a sun dog and also the first painting to depict the city of Stockholm in colour. The original has now been lost, but a copy of it was made in 1636 by Jacob Elbfas (no, I do not know what his surname means) and that is still with us today.
The aftermath of Petri’s sermon? Well, the king was all “Shut up you damn fool!” in the short-term. In the long-term they argued a bit more over sun dogs and other things and Petri was sentenced to death, but finally reprieved. It was all a little silly and unnecessary, but the world got a nice painting out of the whole thing, so no foul no harm.
Today was the birthday of Edie Sedgwick. I thought for a while before including her in this illustrious almanac, because after all she’s just famous for being famous for being a bit of an anorexic drug addict who died young. But, despite the fact that she’s this vague and vapid personality, or maybe because of it, she’s a blank canvas that has been painted on over and over again. Perhaps it is her very nothingness that has made her so memorable.
So, the basics. Posh girl, shit family life, history of mental problems, narcissistic, possibly abusive father. Her method of control is anorexia, she slides into drug abuse, she meets Andy Warhol who falls in love with her look and her lack of self. She makes some films with him, they fall out, she has some sort of relationship with Bob Dylan, but he’s married and she doesn’t know. Then a relationship with his bass player Bob Neuwirth, drugs and her erratic behaviour killed that. The next five years of her life saw her in and out of psychiatric institutions, getting progressively weaker, more dependent on drugs and alcohol with some periods of near normality. In 1971 she married Michael Post, who she had met in an institution. For few months she was drug free, but in November of that year she was back to a heavy reliance on barbiturates and alcohol. This is one of the worst mixtures in the world if you want to stay alive. It’s possible Edie didn’t. She died on November 16th 1971.
Not much of a life, but enough to inspire quite a few people. Just like a woman (Dylan), is about her. Femme Fatale (Velvet Underground ft Nico), is about her. She’s been name-checked or had songs written about her by Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, The Cult, Edie Brickell. Her look has been used by Madonna, she’s been depicted on film several times and Patti Smith wrote a poem about her. Not bad for a skinny little girl who starved herself to disappear. She did, but if you look closely she’s still there.
Happy birthday, Edie.