Sunday, 26 April 2015

The Next Generation

Julia and Ferdinando had three children - Mercedes (my grandmother), Maria and Vladimir.
I know little of Vladimir except that he ended up living in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I did meet him and his wife, Margaritta, when I was 11 and went to Italy with my grandmother. They had 2 daughters, Pelucita and Nikita, but that is all I know.

My grandmother and Maria seem to have had wonderful childhoods on Capri. They both learnt to dance and to paint. Of course they were in their early teens when World War I struck. There are no records of that part of their lives.

At the end of the war a marriage was arranged for my grandmother - to an English officer, John Glazebrook, and she was sent to England, a beautiful, tall, willowy Italian maiden, talented and gentle, but not sophisticated and with a limited education.

Maria had fallen in love with a local boy, Fritz, of a German family. Of course, after the war, this liaison was frowned upon and they were separated and lost touch. Maria married an Italian marquis and had a daughter, Mimi. I understand that the marriage was not happy and it was over long before I became aware of such things.

Decades later Maria was travelling on a bus and heard a familiar voice - it was Fritz! He, too, was no longer married and the old love affair was rekindled. They became inseparable,  a lovely couple in their seventies. They travelled the world together, but their families were not happy that they should continue to 'live in sin' and so arranged a surprise marriage. The marriage lasted until Maria died in her nineties.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Julia von Bredow Gamboni

Here are some of my great-grandmother's paintings.
Juilia's self-portrait

Juilia's sister, Maria
My grandmother, Mercedes, age 3yrs
My grandmother, Mercedes, age 7yrs
My great aunt Maria, age 17yrs

Copy of a painting by Raphael, 'Madonna della Seggiola'

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Ferdinando’s Story

Ferdinando Gamboni, my great-grandfather, was born in Naples, the eldest son in a family of ten children.

His father was a notorious figure: dressed in a wide-brimmed black hat and a long black cloak, he would appear without warning, laden with gifts, get his wife pregnant and then disappear again for months at a time.

Ferdinando took on the role of head of the household. Somehow he earned enough money to send all of his siblings over to America, to a better life. Then he moved to Capri to become a teacher.

His education, of course, was minimal, and he had no qualifications for the job other than his great intelligence and love of learning.

The King of Italy would spend his holidays on Capri, as so many Roman Emperors had done before him. The king loved to play chess – and so did Ferdinando. It was inevitable that the two should become great friends. The king always referred to Ferdinando as ‘il professore’ and that became his title, despite the lack of qualifications.

Ferdinando Gamboni with Villa Mercedes in the background
Ferdinando and Julia had a long, happy marriage – and three children: my grandmother, Mercedes, my great-aunt Marietta (who preferred to be called Maria) and my great-uncle Vladimir.

They also had a cat and a dog. Every day Ferdinando would arrive home with food for the two animals in his pockets. Both the cat and the dog would be waiting for him at the gate, but he would simply pretend to ignore them as they took their places on each side of him and escorted him into the house, waiting patiently to be noticed and fed.

(I am having difficulty typing this as I have a cat perched on my left arm, purring and dribbling away)

Ferdinando died first and Julia moved to Florence to continue her career as a painter.

Sometime in the early 1940s, Julia became very ill. Suddenly she sat up straight in bed, her arms outstretched as if  towards someone invisible, and she cried, ‘Ferdinando, sono pronto!’ (I am ready!), fell back and died.

Move forward five centuries!

 The name Von Bredow is quite prominent in the histories of Germany and Russia.

Wladimir von Bredow, on leaving university as an engineer, was placed in charge of creating the first railways in Russia. It is he who was responsible for the building of the great Trans-Siberian Railway.

Each time the railway linked two major towns, the Tsar presented him with a fob commemorating the event. I still own one of those golden fobs. 

Wladimir von Bredow and family
Wladimir and his wife, Maria,  had two daughters, Maria and Julia.

Daughter Maria devoted herself to music, but Julia wanted more out of life. She was given the sort of education normally only granted to boys.

Exceptionally gifted, Julia spoke fourteen languages fluently, and excelled in other subjects too – but her desire to continue her education at university was blocked by the family. It was time for her to behave like a woman, and get married.

Julia rebelled and ran away to study art in Paris. The family disowned her. She was on her own.
Julia's Copy of Madonna della seggiola by Raffaello
From art school, she became an official copyist in the Louvre. She specialised in copies of the Mona Lisa and was actually copying the picture when it was stolen.

The painting was recovered two weeks later – or so they said. But Julia insisted, the painting that returned was not the one she had been copying.

Having made a small fortune as a successful copyist, Julia set out to travel round the world. But she only got as far as Italy, to Capri, where she fell in love with the local schoolmaster, Ferdinando Gamboni.

Julia wrote to tell her parents that she was getting married to a schoolmaster and, despite having disowned her, they rushed to Capri to stop the marriage.
But they too fell in love with Ferdinando, gave their blessing and bought the couple a house, Villa Mercedes. 
Villa Mercedes (on extreme left) perched above the Faraglioni on Capri

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

The Family Legend

About the year 1300 the King of Prussia and his courtiers, when out hunting, were wont to rest at a tiny hamlet beside a small lake.

As they all mounted their horses to resume the hunt, there would be a certain amount of jostling as everyone strove to get a place near to the king.

My ancestor usually won the most coveted position and, as a result, received quite a lot of jealous teasing and some uncourtly behaviour.

One day, just as they were all setting off after their break, another courtier  pushed his horse forward beside the king, forcing my ancestor’s horse to swerve aside into the lake where it stumbled on a submerged log, tipping it’s rider into the pool.

Everyone laughed to see the king’s favourite so humbled: except the king himself. He dismounted and held out his hand to help the soaked courtier back onto dry land.

Then, drawing his sword, he said, ‘Kneel.’

My ancestor knelt before the king who touched him lightly on the shoulder with his sword, saying, ‘Henceforth your name shall be “Bred” (which means log of wood) and it is here that you shall build a castle.’

This was the start of the family Von Bredow. The little hamlet grew around the new castle to become a town, Bredow, sitting beside the Lower Oder in Pomerania, near Stettin. And the family crest has a circle, pierced by a log of wood, over the motto Nunquam Retrorsum ( Never Again Retreat).

My great uncle had an ancient ring with this crest, which he always wore. It must now be somewhere in Argentina where his daughter lives.

Friday, 19 September 2014

It looks a little prettier now...

 And I have found out how to do this on my ipad. So I can work on it in the evening.
What shall I write?
Many people have asked me to write about my family history... So that is probably the first step.
The story starts in Prussia.... More to follow...

Saturday, 13 September 2014

In the beginning

Never tried blogging yet... so this is just a start. No idea how it works, but I will learn and you will see this page grow...