Blazing

Blazing an angelic trail

 

With the festive season under way and the world facing dark times, what could be better than wandering around the V&A searching for a host of benevolent guardians to keep us safe. And, much as I admire their work, I’m not talking about the security team!

The concept of what in modern Britain we know as ‘angels’ is almost as ancient as humanity and features in virtually every civilisation. Winged figures appeared in stone carvings from Old Babylonia at least 2000 years BC (check out the Burney Relief at the British Museum) and have been represented in different forms and with different names and roles across many cultures since then, notably in Christianity, Judaism and Islam, although each has different ideas about what these figures represent.

My volunteer colleague Marilyn McIntyre and I have put together an entirely non-academic but (we think!) fascinating tour around some of the angels on display in case you find yourself with an hour or so to spare. Follow the Angel 2B icon below and we hope you enjoy exploring with us, whether physically or via the links embedded in this post.

 

Angel 2BStart at the main entrance and take lift B or Stairs A up to British Galleries level 2. Head to room 56d and in Case 13 you’ll find a lovely German earthenware dish, which helpfully dates itself as 1615.

German slipware dish 1615

 

We liked the intricate but naive decoration and rich colouring as well as the benevolent features of the central angel figure.

 

 

 

 

 

Angel 2BHead through the British Galleries to room 58b, Case 1, where you’ll see a beautiful stained glass panel depicting angels playing a lute and harp.

 

But all is not as it seems. Rather than drawing on divine inspiration, it is thought that the artist had actually referenced performers from one of the touring ‘pageant wagons’, who wore pyjamas covered in feathers as costumes for their popular mystery plays.

 

Angel 2BHead back down to the main entrance and into room 41, South Asia, Case 16 to find a stunning Indian cabinet.

Indian cabinet

This mixes local craftsmanship with European influences and juxtaposes two subjects that we might not normally associate with each other, namely a gun-toting hunting party on one side and The Annunciation on the other.

 

Angel 2B Now take the main corridor to the Cast Courts, room 46A on the left. Towards the back of the room beyond Trajan’s column, you’ll see a cast that could, at first glance, appear to be a contemporary piece with African influences.

Shobdon Church Plaster Cast

 

It is in fact a cast of the tympanum from a long-demolished church at Shobdon in Herefordshire and the original highly stylised artwork dates from c1140.

 

 

 

 

Angel 2BContinue through the Cast Court into the exhibition corridor and turn left. Take Staircase L up to Jewellery. Here we have two exquisite pieces to share with you, although there are more to find if you want to linger among the gold and diamonds.

 

Earrings

 

These earrings are an example of how 19th century makers were inspired by ancient pieces discovered during archeological explorations, reminding us that it’s not just in our time that ‘everything is a remix’.

Seraph

 

 

 

 

The brooch is a modern piece also drawing on ancient teachings for inspiration, producing this beautiful mix of materials and techniques.

 

 

 

 

Angel 2BMake your way into Paintings, room 82 and take a look at the East Wall where St Cecilia and the Angels awaits your gaze.

 

St Cecilia and the angels

Spirit of Gaiety

St Cecilia is the patron saint of music so it is fitting that our next angel has a grand piano for company, next door in room 81. She is the Spirit of Gaiety designed for the dome of the second Gaiety Theatre in London, and erected in 1904.

 

 

 

Angel 2BNow make your way into Silver, room 67 and in case 10 you’ll get two angels for the price of one!

 

Silver Candelabra

 

 

This fine quality silver candelabra is by Joseph Angell who has many other pieces on display nearby.

 

 

 

 

 

Angel 2BAs you head back through Sacred Silver and Stained Glass, room 84, take a moment to seek out this beautifully detailed roundel in case S3.

 

Roundel

 

Angel 2BHead back down staircase L and by now you’ll probably need a cup of tea!

 

 

And if you’re in need of some reading material while you rest, here’s a very small selection of ‘angelic’ material to read…sadly these are some of the many items currently in storage but they have diverse and fascinating stories to tell if you click the links.

Pakistan paintingRelief fragment, China

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Relief fragment, Khadalik, China ca.6th century          Painting, Pakistan, 2007, Khadim Ali

Egyptian panelAnd all the angels singTapestry Panel, Egypt, 400-599                   

Furnishing fabric ‘And all the angels sing’, Sweden, 1992, Lilo Hörstadius

 

Angel 2BIf you’ve emerged from the café refreshed and ready for more, head to the other cast court, room 46B, where you will find an abundance of angels.

The Marriage of the Virgin

 

 

We have picked out The Marriage of the Virgin as a magnificent example with a heavenly host complete with trumpets and all the accoutrements we’d expect in a classical work.

 

 

 

Angel 2B Go out of the Cast Court, cross the corridor into room 50b and look for case 2.

 

Angel of the annunciation

 

The Angel of the Annunciation is a rare surviving wood sculpture with remarkably colourful decoration given its age.

 

 

 

 

 

Angel 2BLook around you and you’ll see a host of classical angels but to finish, where else could we end but in room 50a with the two remaining Wolsey Angels.

 

Wolsey angels

We really hope you’ve enjoyed this tour as much as we enjoyed putting it together!

Wolsey angel 2

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How to Make Your WordPress Site Blazing Fast

This is a sponsored post via Syndicate Ads.

Today’s web users have the need for speed. With internet and cellular connections getting faster and faster, users expect sites to feel snappy. As developers, we must make sure we’re doing our best to serve those pages quickly. This article will focus on what you should be doing to make sure your WordPress sites are as fast as possible.

Make Your WordPress Site Blazing Fast

There are essentially two main categories that performance can be broken down into: front-end and back-end. Back-end is anything related to the server and how data is populated on a page (PHP code in your theme is the “back-end”). The front-end consists of all your assets (CSS, JavaScript, images, etc.) and markup. Everything a web browser reads and interprets is the “front-end”. This distinction is important because it’s good to know what you’re optimizing and, even more importantly, where you need to optimize the most.

To actually test site speed, use a combination of WebPagetest and Google PageSpeed Insights. WebPagetest gives you a good idea of the actual time (in seconds) that a site takes to load, explaining where bottlenecks may be. PageSpeed Insights is best for looking at how your front-end is site is rendered by the browser.

Front-end performance

The golden rule of performance, according to Fastly’s Steve Souders is that 80-90% of a page’s total load time consists of the front-end. The back-end’s 10-20% is crucially important, but even if you’re using the fastest host around, your site still won’t live up to its full potential without optimizing the front-end and users perceive it to load quickly. Perception is an important part of front-end optimization. A user doesn’t care how many seconds a site takes to load. A user cares about how quickly they can interact with a site without a delay. Not that you shouldn’t be worried about the actual load time (you should), but by following these techniques, you can make sure that your site is in a usable state fast, before loading the rest of the page assets.

Golden Waterfall

CSS

Before delivering CSS to the browser, it’s important to compress it and remove unused selectors.

Once your stylesheet is ready to go, the easiest (and standard) way to load it is to reference it in the <head>. The browser will load and parse it before the rest of the DOM is loaded. However, there’s a new technique where “critical” styles are inlined in the <head> and then the full stylesheet is loaded asynchronously using JavaScript. This technique can be used when trying to get a site to load (or perceive to load) in under a second, but it’s a great tool to keep in your arsenal. Check out this great extensive article on using this technique.

WebPageTest

JavaScript

The golden rule(s) of optimizing JavaScript are simple: serve as few JavaScript files as possible and minify and concatenate. Third-party WordPress plugins can bloat your document with unminified blocking JavaScript files, so it’s important to be mindful when choosing plugins. Ideally, you’d concatenate ALL JavaScript files into one and then minify it. When that’s not possible, HTML attributes called async and defer can be used to load JavaScript files asynchronously or once the rest of the page is loaded.

The most common place to reference JavaScript is at the bottom, right before the closing tag. However, there are more advanced techniques to load JavaScript. The Filament Group has several tools you can use for this. The best approach is to load scripts dynamically by inlining a small function in the <head> that appends script tags without blocking the rest of the page. For more information, check out the loadJS script.

Images

Images are often the biggest files on a page, responsible for the largest load time delay. The good thing about images is that, unlike CSS and JavaScript, most browsers load them asynchronously. That helps with the perceived performance of a page. But it’s still important that A) you’re serving as few images as possible and B) those images are compressed as much as possible.

Compression tools are necessary for squeezing out as much excess as possible on images. ImageOptim is a great free Mac compression app, along with OptiPNG and jpegtran for use with task runners like Grunt.

ImageOptim

Fonts

Web fonts are super common these days.Google Web Fonts make sites pop. It’s easy to not realize the performance hit you take by just referencing them in the <head<. The performance hit is small, but every little bit counts! For best performance using web fonts, check out the the Web Font Loader, co-developed by Google and Typekit. It’s an open source script that both manages the loading of your fonts from third parties like Google Web Fonts and allows them to load asynchronously (getting tired of that word yet?).

As to be expected, there’s some configuration needed to get Web Font Loader integrated into your project, so check out the project on GitHub for setup info.

Web Font Loader

Back-end performance

The front-end has all kinds of tricks for speed, but we’re not so fortunate on the back-end. A server is either fast or it’s not. It’s critical that your site gets to the browser as quickly as possible, which can be accomplished by getting on a quality host. Managed hosts like Flywheel are the most realistic way to see true performance gains for WordPress sites.

Dedicated WordPress hosts

There are are a host of managed WordPress hosts (pun intended). What managed hosts typically provide is a dedicated VPS (virtual private server), a caching layer and other infrastructural bonuses that set them apart from your typical shared hosting. These all matter when it comes to loading your site fast, so the best and first step to a super fast WordPress site should be the host.

For example, let’s take a look at Flywheel. Flywheel is a managed host, and their infrastructure is designed so your sites never touch another customer’s. Compared to a host that crams as many sites as possible on the same server, having your site on a server by itself works magic for speed. It means that server’s resources are just working for you, not for everyone else.

Flywheel

Theme logic

There are many things you can do while developing to make your back-end as performant as possible. Nasty loops that do tons of comparisons and use lots of memory slow down a site down. There are lots of articles on performant PHP, but just take care when writing theme logic!

Another important time saver during database queries is the Transients API. WordPress transients store cached data in the database temporarily, which means your logic only has to run once (whenever the first visitor loads the page). The results are then stored in the database. The Codex has good documentation on the usage of transients.

Caching

Caching assets is one of the best ways to improve performance. Once a user loads your site the first time, you can take advantage of browser capabilities to cache the contents of that site locally, so on the next visit the user already has them loaded. The most common WordPress caching tool is W3 Total Cache plugin. This plugin (or one similar) is needed on most shared hosts. However, WordPress specific hosts like Flywheel handle caching for you behind the scenes. With hosts like Flywheel, all of the caching is done on the server outside of WordPress, which means your sites are already tuned for max performance.

W3 Total Cache

Gzip

Gzip is a file format that’s used to compress other files together, similar to just zipping files. Gzipping allows files to be sent over the web at a compressed size. Once a browser receives gzipped data, it unzips it to get the source data. Gzipping is super important for speed, as it sends your data over the wire in much smaller packages (50 – 70% smaller, in fact). Smaller file size equals faster load times!

You should always check to see if your host supports Gzipping. Managed WordPress hosts like Flywheel enable Gzip compression by default, so it’s one less to to worry about!

Gzip

CDN

A content delivery network (or CDN) is a network of servers that serves up your website and its assets from different locations based on the user’s location. For example, let’s say you’re not using a CDN and your site is hosted in San Francisco. When someone from, say, Spain visits your site, they have to retrieve all your assets from your server in San Francisco. The long distance between the two locations clearly takes longer than if someone from San Francisco loads your site that’s hosted in San Francisco. A CDN serves your assets from the closest geographical data center. Users will hit the server closest to them, speeding up the physical time and distance required to load the page.

Some of the most popular CDNs include Amazon Web Services, CloudFlare and MaxCDN. If you want a super easy setup, check out Flywheel’s MaxCDN add-on.

Flywheel Addons

Conclusion

Tuning a web site to maximum capacity can be challenging. There are a lot of moving parts. By working through both the front end and the back end, a site can be designed or overhauled for maximum speed. On the front end, saving as much time and space as possible means the con-tent you’re serving gets to the content faster. But if even if your front end is brilliantly designed, none of that will matter the servers you host the site on aren’t running at their peak performance. Managed WordPress hosts tune sites to peak performance and take out the frustrations behind web hosting. Hosts like Flywheel will not only make your site fly, but make your hosting experience worry-free.


Onextrapixel – Web Design and Development Online Magazine