Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Samuel F B Morse - Inventor & Artist

As I've been debating on where to go over Spring Break with Alex, one of my thoughts was a return trip to Washington DC! We both loved it, we were comfortable getting around on our own, and there is so much more to see! One place we didn't see was the National Gallery of Art, and they currently have a special exhibition of Morse's painting, The Best of the Louvre.

We studied Morse way back in 2006, but the books we read about him only covered the telegraph. I hadn't realized that he was a painter before an inventor - or if I'd read that fact, I'd forgotten it. He was also a Christian who described his life work by saying, "'It is His work. “Not unto us, but to Thy Name, O Lord, be all the praise.” (Answers in Genesis has a great article about him here.)

The painting, The Best of the Louvre, showcases many pieces of art that were actually in the Louvre though they were not all in the same room. (Can you find the Mona Lisa?) In the center of the the painting you can see Morse looking over the shoulder of his daughter who is painting. Also pictured, in the left, is his friend and author, James Fenimore Cooper pictured with Cooper's wife and daughter.

In an interview with NPR's Susan Stamberg, author David McCullough said, ""It was an extremely ambitious undertaking because many of the paintings that he was copying were hung very high up. And so he had to build a movable platform, or scaffold, that he wheeled about the galleries of the Louvre to reach his subjects. And he and the movable scaffold became a tourist attraction themselves"

As to why the painting was created, David McCullough said, "There were no museums here, as yet, in the 1830s, and no color representations of paintings, so he was going to bring the culture of Europe — mainly the Renaissance Italian masterpieces in the Louvre collection — back to the United States for the benefit of his countrymen." (Quotes from the NPR site.)

As we also look forward to our trip to France this summer, I am really enjoying this painting! And, I'm looking forward to reading McCullough's new book, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris. It is the story of Americans, from the year 1830 to 1900, who went to Paris to excel in their work - whether they were artists, authors, doctors, politians, etc.

P.S. Another great site about Morse and his art is found at the Terra Foundation for American Art website. under "collections".

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

A Worker Reads History

I watched session 1 of a Yale Open Course today. It is a free course titled "France Since 1871" and it is taught by Professor John Merriman. Although the video itself is a little choppy, I am finding the professor quite enjoyable and am looking forward to learning about France. There are 24 lectures and the class reads six books and watches three films. I thought this would be a great way to prepare for our trip to France this summer.

The first lecture was mostly about what to expect in the course. At the conclusion, though, the professor read a poem by Brecht that he said highly influenced him to become a history teacher. The poem is "A Worker Reads History."

Who built the seven gates of Thebes?
The books are filled with names of kings.
Was it the kings who hauled the craggy blocks of stone?
And Babylon, so many times destroyed.
Who built the city up each time? In which of Lima's houses,
That city glittering with gold, lived those who built it?
In the evening when the Chinese wall was finished
Where did the masons go? Imperial Rome
Is full of arcs of triumph. Who reared them up? Over whom
Did the Caesars triumph? Byzantium lives in song.
Were all her dwellings palaces? And even in Atlantis of the legend
The night the seas rushed in,
The drowning men still bellowed for their slaves.

Young Alexander conquered India.
He alone?
Caesar beat the Gauls.
Was there not even a cook in his army?
Phillip of Spain wept as his fleet
was sunk and destroyed. Were there no other tears?
Frederick the Great triumphed in the Seven Years War.
Who triumphed with him?

Each page a victory
At whose expense the victory ball?
Every ten years a great man,
Who paid the piper?

So many particulars.
So many questions.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Saint Sebastian

I am currently enjoying a DVD course from The Great Courses entitled World's Greatest Paintings by Professor William Kloss. Professor Kloss is superb and I am learning so much from his passionate lectures.
by Ter Brugghen
Today's lecture included three artists, including a painting by Ter Brugghen of St Sebastian titled St Sebastian Tended by Irene. As a Protestant, I am not familiar with the stories of many of the saints and see that many works of art are based on their lives. So, I am trying to become more familiar with their stories. I read several articles about St Sebastian, but the most interesting piece I found was at Tom Reeder's Blog, which is both informative and humorous.
by Boticelli

St Sebastian lived in Rome during the third century. He was a bodyguard for the Emperor, Diocletian. (Side note: Diocletian appointed 3 other co-emperors and each of them ended up ruling 1/4th of Roman Empire as Tetrarchs.)
Diocletian persecuted Christians and Sebastian was visiting them in prison. He was also converting other sodiers to Christianity. When Diocletian found out, he ordered that Sebastian be tied to a post and executed by archers.
by Il Sodoma

However, Sebastian did not die from his wounds, according to the stories. He was nursed back to health by a lady later known as St Irene. After he was healed, Sebastian confronted Diocletian and, this time, Diocletian made sure that Sebastian was killed by clubbing.
by Andrea Mantegna
Sebastian became a saint and was later called upon during several plagues, including the Plague of Justinian. This Plague started in about AD 540 and ended in AD 590 after killing 25 to 100 million people -  possibly half the population of Europe. It was said that "the random nature of infection with the Black Death caused people to liken the plague to their villages being shot by an army of nature’s archers. In desperation, they prayed for the intercession of a saint associated with archers, and Saint Sebastian became associated with the plague." (quote from link from fisheaters site titled Symbols of the Saints in Art.)
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