Statue of David

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Donatello, Statue of David (1408). Marble, 191 cm. Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence.

Reasons why Donatello did two of these sculptures

The Israelites battle the Philistines and David the shepherd boy accepts the challenge to fight their greatest warrior, Goliath; refusing weapons, David takes a slingshot and hits Goliath with a stone, knocking him down and he cuts his head off.

Donatello was commissioned to make a statue of David twice in his career, and they both depict victory after the battle from the Old Testament.

The first statue was marble and with its transfer from the Cathedral to the Signoria (the government seat) it had the function of a political symbol regarding freedom represented by a beautiful boy, as well as a religious hero and all its devotional relevance concerning the moral of the story, where good triumphs over evil, with David getting his strength from God!

Donatello had to adjust the design with iconographic alterations to cater for both parts of the commission, and this shows how society restricted his artistic freedom.

The bronze version was the first unsupported standing work and first free standing nude male, giving it a sense of naturalism; thus, this is relevant because naturalism was a new style, and perfect to represent this effeminate, iconic boy.

It emphasises not only the form of Donatello’s style and talent, but it perhaps reflects the artist’s own sexual orientation, offering some biographical information with a statue!

Function is relevant here because Donatello‘s David is associated with the desire for freedom, it indicates Florentine triumph over tyranny and is their single most prominent freedom symbol, showing how the function of sculpture in society is more than just religious; thus, function existed before the limewood carvings that perhaps took precedence after Donatello.

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Donatello, Statue of David (1440). Bronze, 158 cm. Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence.


King Richard is the only character that dies on stage in William Shakespeare’s Richard III

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Richard III is a history play by William Shakespeare that was written around 1591 and the story leads up to a decisive battle in the War of the Roses.

On the one hand, this play is strangely enough about comedy. For example, physical violence is avoided, with King Richard the only character that actually dies on stage. The infamous Richard III appears in the play quite differently to his villainous reputation and provides a little humour when he plans to marry Queen Elizabeth’s daughter. He says:

“I must be married to my brother’s daughter, or else my kingdom stands on brittle glass. Murder her brothers, and then marry her – uncertain way of gain! But I am in so far in blood that sin will pluck on sin. Tear-falling pity dwells not in this eye.”

Shakespeare is still saying that nothing will stop Richard getting his hands on the crown!

On the other hand, this is a play about fatalism. For example, evil Richard III may have been given to England as divine punishment for the deposition of Richard II and divine punishment is from Almighty God who often punishes evil with evil. Shakespeare is probably making the point that in the wake of the destruction from the Protestant Reformation, it is possible that Richard III was seen as the final curse and his evil path was actually meant to cleanse the English in the long term by rooting out wickedness in society and restoring goodness with the eventual rule of Henry VII.

However, this is also a play about Richard III as an anti-hero. For example, throughout the story, Richard’s character continuously waxes and wanes – possibly to give dramatic effect – thus, Richard establishes a connection with the audience. In his first soliloquy, King Richard III admits his amorality but also treats the audience as if they were conspiring with him. By the end of the play, everyone else (including the Duchess, Richard’s own mother) has turned against him and Shakespeare makes this clear by reducing the inspiring quality of Richard’s language on stage to simply passing on information and moving the plot along. When Richard has his crown within sight, he encapsulates himself into the world of the play, no longer shifting and changing; thus, from act four onwards, the King really begins to head toward becoming the play’s antagonist.

In summary, Richard III is a really popular Shakespeare play and this must be partly because of the Colley Cibber production in Drury Lane during the 1700s which contained the most famous Shakespearean line that Shakespeare never wrote: “Off with his head.” This is something that has since reappeared in the timeless Alice adventures by Lewis Carroll to great comedy effect; having become idiomatic in the English language, “Off with his head” is now known to countless young children (and adults too) who are yet to discover its origins – does this not show a link between great writers throughout history, blend children’s literature with adult literature and strengthen the discipline of English in general?

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Sistine Chapel

Pope Celebrates Baptisms In The Sistine Chapel

Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel Ceiling (1508). Plaster, 40.5  x 14.0 m. Vatican City.

Why the artwork of the Sistine Chapel ceiling has a function and purpose

The complex function of the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel is biblical and theological, it enriches the design of the building, demonstrates the enlightened magnificence of Pope Julius II (because it was his senior status who allowed the commission) and of course it displays excellent talent.

This ceiling has generated money in many ways throughout the years with prayer books, materials and tourism and the art has the obvious devotional, religious task which remains today and proves how important function in art really is.

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Shakespeare wrote ‘Midsummer’ as a figment of his own imagination

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“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is a comedy play by William Shakespeare that was written around 1593 and the story recounts the activities of Theseus, who is preparing to marry Hippolyta.

On the one hand, this play is about love and its dark side. For example, the fairies make fun of the lovers by mistaking them, they put a potion in Titania’s eyes so she falls in love with an ass and Puck confuses the lovers in the forest.

The play follows the adventures in the woods of four lovers and six actors who are guided by these forest fairies, thus marriage clearly relates to this central theme of love; hence, “love aspiring to and consummated in marriage, or to a harmonious partnership within it.” There are three phases of this love depicted “its renewal, after a breach in the long-standing marriage of Oberon and Titania; adult love between mature people in Theseus and Hippolyta; and youthful love with its conflicts and their resolution” (according to an introduction to a 1979 Methuen edition edited by Harold Bloom).

The play is a celebration of the wedding of the Duke of Athens and the Amazon Queen. Thus, the setting is in Fairyland, which is a moonlit forest, and Shakespeare rightly relates the celebration of true love to marriage. He connects it to other types of love such as female friendship, the love between prince and subject or even the dark side of love. Perhaps then, Shakespeare focuses here on how “love” should be spread across this forest and the world, rather than its opposite!

On the other hand, the play deals with the issue of time. For example, in the very first scene it is clear that Shakespeare is using the lunar calendar for timing. Theseus said: “Four happy days bring in another moon.” Lysander says: “There will be so much light in the very night, they will escape and that dew on the grass will be shining like liquid pearls.” Quince says: “They will rehearse in moonlight.” This is all very confusing when you think that the wood episode actually takes place on a night of no moon, so perhaps it is only in fairy land that time can stand still!

However, the play also deals with feminism and male dominance. For example, Shakespeare may be using Oberon’s juice to symbolise two things: the juice can be seen as menstrual blood, representing female power, and the juice can be seen as a virgin’s sexual blood, probably representing man’s power over women. Shakespeare does go on to challenge patriarchal rule and male dominance in the play, because the forest alludes to disorder. Thus, at times of carnival or festivities, male power and political order is often broken down. Hence, the happenings to the four lovers in the woods, as well as Bottom’s dreaming, are analogous to chaos, and this contrasts with any political order, which of course is usually male dominated!

In summary, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is one of William Shakespeare’s most popular plays — widely performed across the world — partly because it is thought to be the only one he wrote as a figment of his own imagination, rather than drawing on any particular source. Does this not make the play the ultimate example of a piece of creative writing?

Ambassadors

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Holbein, Ambassadors (1533). Oil on oak, 2.07 x 2.10 m. National Gallery, London.

Possible interpretations of a truly wonderful piece of double portraiture

Paintings often have signs deliberately placed in them with specific dual meanings like idioms or metaphors in the English language. For example, a globe may refer to expanding colonization of the Americas as well as being a possession of the artist and Ambassadors is inundated with such iconography.

A double portrait, still life with inanimate objects, Ambassadors is anamorphosis which means the image is distorted, hence the skewed skull in the lower middle portion; Holbein’s two figures are linked to objects in the painting, which convey meaning and follow on from a tradition of religious imagery, proving iconography has evolved through time.

The floor mosaic in Ambassadors is from Westminster Abbey; the carpet is oriental; the figures are wearing different styles of clothing; there is a flute case; a lute with a broken string; two skulls; globes and a crucifix. All of these inanimate objects are symbolic in some way and they all mean something.

Broadly iconographical means the study of these ‘icons’ as clues to the intention of Holbein the artist, his personality and the times he lived in. As iconologists we are starting with art and using it to work our way into history.

Iconography in Greek means ‘image writing’ referring to the artist, viewer and commissioner alike and includes mainly the ideas represented by visual images with their associated intrinsic meaning.

Not only does Ambassadors have a half hidden crucifix in the top left corner, but it means something. If Erwin Panofsky thought that iconological symbols in art ‘mirrored the attitude of a nation, class, period or religion’ and brought us expressive meaning Ambassadors by Holbein does this in many ways.

Symbols in Ambassadors are not randomly selected objects but intentional, meaningful artistic expression, deliberately included by the artist to convey meaning, and our search for knowledge within the artwork is more complete, if we evaluate these iconic ideas to gain an insight into the cultural language of the time.

Hans Holbein began designing stained glass windows which also convey religious symbolic meaning. By interpreting the historical context of these symbols we can see that art of a period can be connected to religion, philosophy, literature, science, politics and the social life of that same period.

Erwin Panofsky brought iconography into the modern era with his three tiered approach. Pre-iconographic is noticing symbols using our senses – the visible world with familiar objects from our vision – combined with knowledge of everyday experience, like the globe in Ambassadors, for instance.

Iconographic is what we mean by identification of the two people and the many objects in Ambassadors, with the story behind their inclusion, and this would come from knowledge of other similar images or a religious text. For example, skulls often referred to death and this was widely known in Holbein‘s time.

Iconology is the use of both the former analysis techniques to delve deeper into the fundamental, inherent meaning (such as the significance within Renaissance culture) and the symbolic values that audience had back then.

What do the details of the story and symbols hold for the audience of that period (the flute case and its military connection is one example) and how do they represent their culture and what did the painting mean for these people at that time? 

Scholars go through Panofsky’s stages methodically, however at the time Ambassadors was painted it was intuitive to do the same thing, and second nature for the viewer: it must be remembered that people lived in a completely different time with different values back then and thought in a different way. Thus, iconography has a history and can be broken down into its component parts, giving us a greater appreciation of the artwork, and a more in depth acquisition of knowledge.

Is there perhaps an artificial setting in Ambassadors? The anamorphic composition disrupts the placidity of the foreground and this implies that the painting involves a secret, only to be revealed by interpreting its iconology.

These two diplomats invite you into the room with the inanimate objects on the mantle-piece like it were their home. However, the scene looks staged and theatrical; it includes props and a green (final) curtain with the stage deliberately constructed perhaps implying a hidden reality behind the scenes of this play.

The thick curtain occupies the entire background. It is so complete, there must be something hiding behind this screen, and there is – most of a crucifix if you look at the top left hand corner!

If it were really somebody’s home showing material possessions displaying wealth, would the broken lute not have been hidden away or mended?

Jean de Dinteville is on the left as we look at the painting and Georges de Selve on the right was a bishop. Both French, these people were well-educated, powerful, young men; and this is probably depicted by the arithmetic book, plus the musical and astronomical instruments.

The title of the painting tells us of the official relationship between the two people, but the privacy of the visit suggests something else.

Dinteville’s stay in England was melancholic, and even today we cannot seem to escape from this connection between intellectual human capacity and depression, with many examples in the public eye.

These educated men were senior in society and the mathematical instruments in Holbein’s work are similar to the tools of geometry in Durer’s Melancholia I which apparently represents wisdom and confidence in science.

The figures flank the table perhaps indicating unification between capitalism and the church because one man is a bishop, the other a landowner.

Their intimacy, is not openly expressed and the peculiarity of the painting may reflect the secret between the two men as the visit to England was actually private.

The intimate yet rigorous exploration of the human face is interesting because the skull and the curtain are different to the other objects because the curtain grants the objects their presence and the skull has a disturbing existence calling attention to itself.

Only then do we begin to understand the painting’s inner concept of concealment, which paradoxically hides by showing.The skull’s distorted image when seen from the right is corrected and there is even a possible reference to Holbein’s name with its inclusion – ‘hollow bone.’

The half hidden crucifix in the top left corner implies resurrection and reflects the idea of mortality. The distorted (anamorphic) skull may have been used to portray the meaningless of life as a vanitas symbol of certain death, as skulls were often used to convey death and mortality, but in this case it may also relate to the brains of learned men, or even declare the secrecy in the painting; this perhaps gives us instructions on how to unlock the secrets by altering the viewer’s perspective – it is an optical illusion and quite amazing when seen!

This untold secret could be a hidden relationship between the two men. According to seventeenth-century histiographic documents neither of the two men went on to marry and the French translation of the word ‘intimacy’ is used more than once.

Double portraits were usually of a couple commemorating without the props and the man with the dagger (Dinteville) is more masculine than the other, whose body gesture is more feminine (de Selve).

It is possible to conclude the traditional iconological analysis of Ambassadors involving a clever man represented by mathematics has shifted more towards their possible mysterious secret.

Every painting has meaning to it and Pablo Picasso refused to comment on the iconography in Guernica thus, if he had, wouldn’t this spoil the debate when piecing together artwork like a jigsaw puzzle?

Most discussion of the inanimate objects within Holbein’s Ambassadors, avoid an inclusion of the case of flutes. France, torn by religion was seeking an alliance with Henry VIII and the protestant church in the sixteenth-century, and de Selve in the painting, being a bishop, was preoccupied with reconciliation, and the hymnbook may indicate this desire for religious harmony.

The lute has a broken string and is next to the hymnbook, which may mean strife between scholars and clergy and be a plea for Christian harmony, thus, both the lute and religious discord need mending.

The lute is a symbol of harmony anyway, with its sixth string broken (a number connected to harmony) and the hexagram on the pavement beneath the shelves has six sides and the anamorphic skull leads us quite naturally to a vanitas interpretation.

Dinteville has a skull on his cap brooch, which is perhaps more of a reference to the planetary patron of melancholy – Saturn – and the figures in sombre dress also suggest melancholy, saturnine times of depressive creativity.

The lute may refer to Venus, which, with music, could overcome the malign effects of Saturn and melancholy; thus, connecting this planetary theme with the instruments of time, and a classical association to mythology. Once mended, the lute symbolises harmony reconciled.

The case of the flutes in Ambassadors, however, adding to the musical theme of harmony, is far too simple for many. The case is a military symbol, and the flute a military instrument because: The primary association of the case of flutes in German illustrations of the first half of the sixteenth-century was military; the flute cases worn by military fifers who with their companion drummers, accompanied the standard bearers of (mostly) Swiss militia units.

This military connection of drummers and ‘fifers’ in their marching bands, may then refer to the protestant forces with which Francis I was seeking an alliance at the time, or is a continuation of the astronomical theme with Mars whose children were predominantly soldiers and the redness of the arithmetic book surely associates it with the red planet.

Venus and Mars being the parents of harmony give the painting an even more powerful sense of reconciliation. Thus, the symbolism of the case of flutes is the key to interpret the significance of these two diplomats and their senior position in society with a military and political association, rather than a hidden, secret intimate relationship.

With the planetary theme, subsequent classical reference to Ancient Greece and mythology, this ‘learned men’ idea of education is taken to a higher level by providing a well researched military link to the case of flutes, especially if heaven is the upper shelf in the painting, Earth is lower shelf and the skull is wartime death!


A short film featuring Betty Boop and Bimbo the Dog

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“Bimbo’s Initiation” is an animated short film that was made by Paramount in 1931, and the cartoon features Bimbo alongside Betty Boop.

Silly old Bimbo vanishes down (not the first, not the second) the third open manhole when he is walking down the street and gets padlocked in, before ending up in a secret underground society like he were Alice ending up in Wonderland! There is a gang down there, and when asked by the gang leader if Bimbo “Wants to be a member?”, “Wants to be a member?” he says “No” before going on a very dangerous mission.

Every time the leader of the gang asks Bimbo, “Wanna be a member?”, “Wanna be a member?” he refuses and he is sent through mysterious doorways toward a deeper basement and then out pops Betty Boop. Betty is in her original incarnation of the dog that Bimbo calls “a pippin,” but Bimbo disappears suddenly through a death trap, with his heart in his mouth; landing directly in front of the big boss leader of the gang, we find that under the costume it is actually Betty Boop in disguise!

Bimbo is quite enamored by the look of Betty Boop, so he finally agrees to join the gang and then the rest of this secret society take off their costumes to show they are all Betty Boop clones in disguise, thus Bimbo and the Boops do a happy dance to the sound of “Tiger Rag” and then “The Vamp” playing along in the background.

Fitz was the original name of Bimbo the Dog who was a cartoon character from the Fleischer Studios, and Bimbo first made an appearance in Inkwell before changing his name. Bimbo then became a star in his own right, hence featuring in the 1930 version of “Bimbo in Hot Dog” for Talkartoons, but Betty Boop soon became more popular; this meant the name had to change from Talkartoons to the Betty Boop Series for commercial reasons.

Eventually, Bimbo had to be taken away from Betty because of censorship laws that frowned upon a dog with a human girlfriend. However, many years later in 1989, Bimbo was to make his comeback and co-starred in the TV version of “Betty Boop’s Hollywood Mystery”; he has thankfully, since continued to appear on merchandising, hence giving the dog more longevity! The species of Bimbo was border collie and he was a drummer by profession.

In summary, this cartoon, “Bimbo’s Initiation,” has an almost surreal or even nightmarish atmosphere about it, thus it has become one of the most renowned short films ever made by the Fleischer Studio, and it has since been voted one of the top 50 Greatest Cartoons in the world, by senior members of the animation industry.

Khajuraho Temples

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Why these Indian temples have become so iconic in recent years

Khajuraho is a remote village in India with a magnificent group of medieval temples covered by sculptures.

Khajuraho means ‘one who carries’ and is derived from Sanskrit with their temples often displaying on the outside the love of puns and double entendres in the design of their erotic sculpture, meaning you should leave these desires outside before entering this sacred place.

Recent expenditure on repair, restoration, conservation and protection, benchmarks the importance of these Hindu temples and more hidden monuments with symbolic meaning, are now being uncovered and excavated. This matters because it indicates the archaeological richness of the area; is relevant for the heritage of India; and this is positive for research widening the boundaries of education.

The roofs of the subordinate structure such as the porch and halls are pyramidal in shape and created the semblance of a mountain. This everlasting symbolic allusion of a temple to a mountain has bearing because the architects believed their place of worship was the centre of the universe.

The human sculpted figures are often shown with sensuous charm because of the softness that lends to smoothness of the stone used, unlike the muscular figures of classical Greece and this is significant because it indicates regional differences in imagery, such as sensuous charm not military might.

Erotic figures exist but form less than ten percent of the monuments in Khajuraho. It is important to point this out because ignorance and prejudice often associated with ethnic minorities in the West eventually becomes a source of irony or even racism and should be avoided, especially when there is multiple meaning to the erotic sculpture: karma, the aim of life, spiritual strength or sex education such as rites of fertility that involved actual sexual practice and its symbolic represented in Khajuraho.

It is clear that not only are these Indian temples artistically interesting, but also that the iconographical approach can be applied all over the world the same way it has been acknowledged the fundamental five concepts of formalism (or Wolfflin’s pairs) can be used in Japanese art. This makes iconography a convincing method of analysis.

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Why Prospero, Miranda and Caliban from ‘The Tempest’ are such important characters in Shakespeare’s validictory play

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Plotters prepare a plan of assassination against Prospero the protagonist (of the play) who has power, but petty punishment and a promise broken means “P” is not a pleasant person – or at least to begin with!

“The Tempest” is William Shakespeare’s final play and there are three main characters: Prospero, the usurped Duke of Milan; Miranda his daughter; and Caliban, the native king of this faraway island who becomes Prospero’s slave. Written around 1611 and published in 1623, “The Tempest” is short, simple and a fitting conclusion to the 37 plays by William Shakespeare.

Prospero

Prospero is one of Shakespeare’s great characters. He enjoys power over nature and over people; for example, Prospero generates a storm with the spirit Ariel, to wreck his brother Antonio’s ship, thus, those on-board are washed up on the island. Prospero is authoritative, autocratic and he is unpleasant to Ferdinand for being a spy. Ferdinand tried to take the island (as his father Alonzo helped usurp Prospero’s Dukedom in Milan twelve years before) and for this, Prospero imprisons him.

Prospero punishes Caliban for simply cursing and this is petty. Prospero also breaks his promise of giving time off to Ariel when the spirit completes a task in good time and this seems unfair. Prospero believes he has the divine right to be king of the island, thus Caliban becomes his slave and was the former king; so Caliban plots to kill Prospero with Stephano and Trinculo as accomplices.

Prospero in “The Tempest” can be compared in modern times to Fidel Castro, who also survived many assassination attempts, to overthrow his dictatorship on the Caribbean island of Cuba. Castro had a network of spies and secret agents used as informers and the spirit Ariel – Prospero’s eyes and ears – acts like a spy as a magical agent in the play. Fidel Castro ruled Cuba as an authoritarian for fifty years and finished with a simple standing down in February 2008, while Prospero ruled his island with an iron grip, gracefully stepping down at the end of the play.

Prospero quotes from his soliloquy, “now my charms are overthrown. And what strength I haves mine own” thus, Jesus was born in a manger and God handed over his power to that baby; Castro surrendered control to his younger brother in a similar manner, hence Prospero and Castro, both liked to play God in their microcosms on their islands, to name but a few comparisons!

Miranda

Miranda is Prospero’s teenaged virginal daughter. Miranda is a gentle girl, thus her father arranges for her meeting with Mr Ferdinand by using music and the spirit Ariel, to lure him to them. Miranda is the only visible female in the script and when playing chess (at the end with Ferdinand) she is oblivious to observers.

Miranda is almost raped by the ogre Caliban, who doesn’t seem to regret his actions. However, Miranda is amazingly strong in scolding him about the attack and to his ungrateful attitude towards her, when she tried to teach him life skills. Miranda proposes to Ferdinand on the enchanted isle in another show of her surprising female strength, thus this young couple in “The Tempest” are very much in love.

Caliban

Caliban is referred to as a monster. He is deformed, subhuman and born to a witch, thus he is the antagonist: wild, natural and uneducated. Caliban shows emotion, with hate towards Prospero and Miranda because of his imprisonment, though they do teach and educate him.

Caliban’s character is seen as a contrast to Ariel. For instance, he is linked to evil magic, while Ariel of the “air” is linked to the positive form of the supernatural; furthermore, Caliban’s lust for Miranda is contrasted by Ferdinand’s true, everlasting love for her. Caliban’s bullied enslavement represents oppressed inhabitants of a European colony, typical of those times and he is a metaphor for the struggle for democracy; this pre-empts another reference to the Cuban people perhaps. In fact, the name “Caliban” is almost an anagram of “Caribbean” or “Cannibal” and was wisely chosen by Shakespeare.

Caliban is perhaps the most popular secondary character in all of Shakespeare, simply because his soliloquy delivers beautiful speeches about his island home and gives the best imagery of any character; this shows his more sensitive, human side thus, Richard Burton played Caliban in the 1960 TV version of “The Tempest” and ironically, meeting future wife Elizabeth Taylor that same year. Even more ironically, it began what can only be described as one of Hollywood’s most tempestuous relationships!

Others

Other characters in Shakespeare’s swansong play include: Alonzo, King of Naples (friends with Prospero’s brother Antonio) who takes control of Milan; Sebastian is Alonzo’s brother; Gonzalo is Prospero’s only friend in Naples; Ferdinand is the son of King Alonzo and they are separated from Gonzalo and Sebastian in the ship wreck.  Gonzalo is actually a popular character with school children because he packs a survival kit for the father and daughter, who are left out at sea.

The strongest and most well rounded character is Prospero, perhaps representing Shakespeare himself. He says farewell to his career in a valedictory manner, by discarding the symbolic book! Goodbye and God Bless! Is this autobiographical feel, the voyage home to retirement for William Shakespeare? The calm after the storm, of a frantic working life. The protagonist character in “The Tempest” was designed to achieve a happy ending, which has many parts: marriage blessing, forgiveness of usurpers, freeing of spirit Ariel, reappearance of Ferdinand, a wedding, murder, plotters forgiven, slaves released, and Prospero’s dukedom regained.

Once the happy ending has been accomplished, Prospero relinquishes his supernatural gifts – by breaking his wand and abandoning the magic book in the ocean – he then retires, using his wonderful solitary speech beginning, “Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes and groves…” Prospero pauses and waits for applause. Shakespeare’s audience are captivated by this famous soliloquy for the final time, at this enchanted, escapist, island-like atmosphere normally seen in the comfort of an open air-theatre (The Globe) hence, he then exits. Remember, Shakespeare liked to perform in his own productions too. This autobiographical touch, when Prospero stands down, carries many a favorite element. How else could Prospero and Shakespeare finally bow out of the game, but with a good old happy ending and a round of applause to go with it?

In summary, though this play is set near Italy, Bermuda is supposed to be the island in question and that area is renowned for its hurricanes, plus the mystery of the infamous Bermuda Triangle which is for “The Tempest” of course fitting. Prospero is the protagonist in this final play thus, he wanes and waxes through unkind phases to nice, as the story moves on – it would be a bad way for Shakespeare to call time on his career if it were the other way round, wouldn’t it?

The Last Supper

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Da Vinci, The Last Supper (1494). Oil on canvas, 460 × 880 cm. Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan.

 

Interesting comparisons between two artists from different periods painting the same scene 

 

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 Tiepolo, The Last Supper (1745). Oil on canvas, 81 x 90 cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris, France.

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Decorative feeling in paintings is directly related to the conditions in which the artist paints under, thus four artists sitting together painting the same thing will produce very different images, however four photographers would come up with the same images (almost) or at least much more similar. 

This concept of decorative feeling helps us explain how and why the artist paints in a certain way. We can also attempt to explain progress leading up to High Renaissance with Michelangelo and how new periods evolved out of this style.

There was evidence of an increase in naturalism after High Renaissance rather than simply enjoying the story behind the image, thus imitating nature either in a linear or painterly fashion has waxed and waned since the Renaissance.

The Last Supper is from the final days of Jesus Christ’s life, when he announces that one of his Apostles will betray him. Leonardo da Vinci finished his version in 1497 and Tiepolo completed his in approximately 1746.

Leonardo’s Last Supper is a good example of the classic plane style with depreciating plane enforced by a slanting arrangement of the table.

None of the diners have their back to us and Judas is leaning back into a shadow, not isolated like in many other versions.

The angles and lighting draw attention to Jesus, whose head is located at the vanishing point for all perspective lines in the plane, where parallel lines appear to converge – a technique associated originally with Leonardo and Donatello.

The Apostles are seated in groups of three, there are three windows behind Jesus and his figure is triangular because the number 3 represented the belief in Holy Trinity.

The body angles between Jesus and John form the linear shape of the letter ‘M’ referring to Mary Magdalene and there is Leonardo da Vinci’s self image in the painting too, with his face pointing away from Jesus, though this is unclear.

Tiepolo’s Last Supper is stylistically opposite to da Vinci’s. Tiepolo’s figures do not unite in the plane, Christ is not detached from his Apostles in front of him and their mass, light and shadow are more prominent. The eye is drawn with recessional tension between the foreground group and the central figure behind them.

Plane aspects such as the pillars and the pointed archway are forgotten because Tiepolo doesn’t isolate his figures and their interaction in his Last Supper does engage our vision, leading our eyes to wander onward from this central point.

This matters because da Vinci’s version is of greater financial value than Tiepolo’s but the technique isn’t of higher quality according to Wolfflin’s analysis.

There is a substantial time difference between the two paintings but both artists were Italian, thus ‘progress’ in technique had been made since the so called pinnacle of High Renaissance where art was supposed to have reached its apex.

 


Why convention was reversed in ‘Sonnet 130′ by William Shakespeare

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William Shakespeare hooks in the reader with the first line of “Sonnet 130” by saying, “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun” and this doesn’t conform to traditional poetry because he negates the comparison – this is unusual but with poetic license!

“Sonnet 130” is significant in the 154 long sequence, because it is the opposite of a Petrarchan sonnet that traditionally focused on love poetry, and the fantasy of it; Shakespeare breaks new ground in “Sonnet 130” because it is anti-Petrarchan and Shakespeare reverses convention.

If pretty-ugly is an oxymoron using two contradictory words to convey meaning with complete opposites, it is possible to summarise “Sonnet 130” as oxymoron: hideously-attractive; or revoltingly-gorgeous; these are but two more.

In “A Midsummer Nights Dream” Shakespeare uses tediously-brief and tragically-mirth as contradictory words, phrases or oxymoron and in this poem (opposite to ugly) the main theme from “Sonnet 130” is beauty. Thus, the three quatrains use metaphors of nature in a negative manner and the couplet is the opposite, smoothing over with a positive.

This sense of positive and negative, opposites and doubles, or the use of contradiction and oxymoron, recurs throughout all of Shakespeare’s plays and poems, thus “Sonnet 130” begins with a negation:

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks; 
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.

I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:

   And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
   As any she belied with false compare. 

Quatrain 1. This includes the line, “Coral is far more red than her lips’ red” and Shakespeare is saying her lips are not that red, thus we have a single line comparison of the female to something she isn’t.

Quatrain 2. Here, her breath is not perfume! “And in some perfumes is there more delight, Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks” and Shakespeare expands the negative to every two lines instead of every line, thus developing his argument.

Quatrain 3. “I love to hear her speak yet well I know, That music hath a far more pleasing sound”. Shakespeare says her voice is not music, and does not sound amazing; he is not bothered the voice is notheaven sent, because he is interested in listening to what she actually has to say!

Couplet. Shakespeare accelerates through the quatrains but hits a sudden change of direction in the couplet, “And yet by heaven I think my love as rare, As any she belied with false compare” thus, Shakespeare makes it clear about these false comparisons here. His conclusion forgives the previous (negative) twelve lines and saves compliments until the end; it is a nice twist in the tale and a successful finish like so many of the romantic comedies!

Sonnets 127 – 152 are the bleakest. They are the Dark Lady sequence, thus this includes “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun” and Shakespeare often makes fun of chivalry with constant criticism in his work; his Dark Lady is actually a real, imperfect woman and not a mythical goddess so often imagined in other forms of poetry.

In the Petrarchan (traditional) renaissance style of poetry, it was common to use love metaphors. For instance, in his “Il Canzoniere” which is a songbook sequence of 366 poems, Petrarch uses “delicate, dazzling, image” and “she in heaven” and “heavenly beauty” and “perfect eyes” hence, he is alluding to his ideal woman, Laura!

It is not unusual for themes of love, lovers, beauty and romance to traditionally fill sonnets. However, Shakespeare’s spin is very unusual, thus “Sonnet 130” teases predecessor Petrarch, by taking these comparisons literally with a dry sense of humour, “roses to cheeks” for instance is hardly scholarly.

Beauty is a theme common also to sonnets 1, 18, 60 and 146 respectively, although “Sonnet 130” is famous in the sequence because of this negativity of beauty. The message of beauty is perhaps that of attractiveness, and not the ideology of beauty in the perfect sense.

The portrayal of beauty varies throughout the 154 sequence. For example, in “Sonnet 1” beauty should be spread and transmitted, while in “Sonnet 18” beauty of the beloved should be preserved, thus timeaffects beauty in “Sonnet 60” and beauty is vanity and appearance in “Sonnet 146”.

Beauty being in the eye of the beholder is more relevant to Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 130” than a sonnet by Petrarch, hence it is more realistic to the partner you might find, rather than the absolute perfection seen in magazines.

“Sonnet 130” is unusual because it is open, sincere, down to earth and pragmatic unlike other sonnets, which are perhaps out of touch with reality, thus is the old style responsible for the unnecessary pressure put on young women these days aiming for perfection?

Perhaps Shakespeare was bored with the accepted style and outgrew it. Shakespeare is possibly being arrogant, as he believes this Italian style is out of date. His true-love (either for the beloved or the dark woman) is valuable and just as rare or uncommon as a typical, false-comparison being true, thus demonstrated in the couplet. This makes his love even truer.

Shakespeare could be unconventional when he wanted to shock and raise eyebrows; he developed his new, unorthodox, own style, now officially called the Shakespearean Sonnet, which is his own form and different to the traditional form, thus, he even did one with 15 lines as well.

Part of what we love about Shakespeare are wonderful examples of creativity like this false-beauty versustrue-love in “Sonnet 130”.

Massacre in Korea and Guernica

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Picasso, Massacre in Korea (1951). Oil on plywood,  110 × 210 cm. Musée National Picasso, Paris.

 

Interesting comparisons between two war paintings

 

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Picasso, Guernica (1937). Oil on canvas, 3.5  x 7.8 m cm. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid.

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The message of civilian strife as a result of war is often conveyed in artwork; Guernica was painted in 1937 and Massacre in Korea was completed in 1951 by Pablo Picasso, thus both have interesting messages about conflict.

Massacre in Korea is oil on plywood and the triangular shape of the left denotes vulnerable women and children, while the square composition of the right conveys invading soldiers with aggressive guns. 

Guernica shows the tragedies of war and the suffering it inflicts on individuals, it is an anti war symbol and an embodiment of peace depicting the bombing of the Basque Country in the Spanish Civil War, thus when asked by a NAZI if he did it, Picasso replied, “no, you did!”

Massacre is simpler than Guernica, less specific and more universal as Picasso had no personal affiliation to Asia or its people.

Uncomfortable with the distance, the artist lost some of his natural flow and it is more of general humanitarian concern compared to the balanced elements of Guernica, which of course represented a great deal of heritage to Picasso and his family.

The atrocity of Guernica was universally condemned being a specific town on a specific day and the Korean War was sanctioned by the United Nations, making it more ‘just’ and many peoples minds!

Massacre was not a specific time or place so much (limiting its emotion and expression) thus, making the painting ambiguous or obscure with reality confused being more general and it hasn’t lasted the test of time in the same way Guernica has, though both paintings were acclaimed upon completion.

Massacre is awkwardly static with the innocent victims less well defined, while the attackers are protected by their robust linear formation with helmets and weapons.

Guernica is more fluid and painterly, allowing the eyes to wander, with the black and white paint expressing a sombre mood of pain and chaos.

There is some strategic use in Massacre though of dark and pale grey, with tonal painterly contrasts on a pregnant woman, unable to defend her unborn child; thus, depicting the suffering of ordinary civilians in an armed conflict.

The central division with fire and a path in Massacre is composed of several dark painterly brush strokes of destruction, between two opposing forces: there is unity in Massacre with the nakedness of ALL the figures. Nude women, children AND soldiers (without penises) make this idea meaningful in the context of the whole painting – it illustrates the mockery of war in one very original manner.

The recession in Massacre has perspective with the ruined building in the distance and the path winding backwards into the fire; for plane, Picasso painted a clear left and a clear right, a front and a back, with division by a path down the middle, which is all very geometric.

The left of Massacre shows countryside surrounding the women. On the right there is pale sky behind the soldiers, who are divorced from any natural scenery; after all they are an alien group invading a foreign land.

There is clearness in Guernica, which shows shape and posture expressing protest; there is an unclearness in Massacre with the indeterminate appearance of the figures – they don’t look Korean with slanted eyes but more European, leaving us only to guess they are Asian!

Facial features in Massacre are similar to Picasso’s Europeans in other paintings, distancing any national identity from these figures as with their lack of clothing and ornamentation, thus even though the title says Korea, the images aren’t so Korean are they, and which side is the north and which side is the south, anyhow? No-one is very sure about that, but many nations did fight in that war adding to the ambiguity of this painting.

Picasso has possibly made the picture deliberately ambiguous, but highly emotional by entitling the painting with the word ‘Massacre’ and this matters to me because it goes beyond the composition and morphology of the painting; it surely reflects Picasso’s own horrified opinion, his personality and political stance and that was the West should not interfere with Eastern conflicts.

Biographical and historical context is perhaps the oldest way of doing art history but progress has meant new methods have been added such as formalism; Wolfflin’s fundamental concepts however, on their own, are quite possibly of more interest to fine art students, actively learning how to paint. Wolfflin’s five pairs are still very useful to art historians for interpreting art though.


The life and times of the Bronte sisters

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West Riding in Yorkshire is where Charlotte, Emily and Anne grew up. The Bronte sisters all published under masculine pseudonyms. Their father was a priest and studied theology at Cambridge.

Influenced by Lord Byron who had recently died, the girls used heroes in their writing with strong sexual magnetism. Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights and Mr Rochester in Jane Eyre for example are typical Byronic heroes.

The sisters were governesses, which was basically an au pair for rich families back then, before becoming Sunday school teachers and studying briefly in Brussels. Branwell, their brother, was an alcoholic. Daphne Du Maurier wrote a book about him.

Finally in 1847, Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, Emily’s Wuthering Heights and Anne’s Agnes Grey were published at the same time. They had to prove by travelling to London that each sister was an independent author and that the three novels were not indeed the work of one (male) author. The publisher was so surprised he took them to the opera for a performance of Rossini’s Barber of Seville.

During her trip to London in 1851 Charlotte Bronte visited the Great Exhibition and Crystal Palace. Soon after, she married, honeymooned in Ireland and then died aged 39 of either typhoid or tuberculosis because of the contaminated water at  Haworth. She was pregnant.

Writing from an early age, the three of them worked in secret, discussing their writing for hours at the dinner table. Emily Bronte loved to wander the wild landscape of the moors around Haworth and Wuthering Heights, which was her masterpiece, reached the heights of literature posthumously.

Emily used the pseudonym Ellis Bell. Wuthering Heights is a Yorkshire manor on the moors; Wuthering is a Yorkshire word meaning turbulent weather. It tells the tale of a passionate yet thwarted love between Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw.

Anne was regarded as the least talented of the Bronte sisters. Agnes Grey is a chronicle which is partly biographical, her most famous work and essentially a historical record or account like a diary of the protagonist’s life. In this case, it is Agnes Grey, or indeed Anne Bronte herself. Like the rest of the family, she seemed to suffer from poor health and she also died young aged 29.

Anne’s work reflects her father’s legacy that books should provide a moral education. Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall are two books she wrote at the time of her brother’s death.

Dog pointing Pheasants

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Oudry, Dog pointing Pheasants (1748). Oil on canvas, 118 x 153.3 cm. Wallace Collection, London

Why this painting was destined for a Parisian chateaux 

This is part of a set of four overdoors commissioned for the chateau near Paris which became a hunting lodge for Louis XV and it is possible Oudry’s son helped with the execution.


The best characters in children’s literature: Winnie the Pooh, Peter Rabbit and Aslan the Lion

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Growing up and reading go hand in hand. Bedtime stories and fairy tales are part of every childhood. Having the story read to you, then learning to read yourself – children’s literature is for all, adults and academics alike. Three children’s books stand out as the best children’s books at different points in many childhood experiences and memories.

“The Tale of Peter Rabbit”

Peter sneaks into Mr. McGregor’s garden, pinches vegetables and, when chased out, he loses some clothing, which McGregor dresses a scarecrow with. In the second tale, Peter and cousin Benjamin Bunny go back for the clothes.

When Peter Rabbit gets home he is dosed with camomile tea by his mother before she putts him to bed.

These animals walk upright and wear human clothes; they are anthropomorphic, and Peter’s father strayed into the garden of Mr. McGregor once, ending up in a pie!

His sisters, who have been good little bunnies, enjoy bread and milk and blackberries for supper.

Flopsy marries Benjamin and they ask Peter’s mother for some cabbage, as she now owns her own garden.

Beatrix Potter developed a Peter Rabbit board game soon after publication of the book, becoming one of the first people to cash in on such an idea, merchandising children’s wallpaper as well.

Potter self-published the first 250 copies of her book, “The Tales of Peter Rabbit,” because all the publishing companies rejected it. They told her to change it to their specifications, but she refused and circulated these first copies among family and friends, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Word got around and Beatrix Potter had to supply the colossal public demand, finally working with publishers, dancing to their tune, changing bits, adding bits, colouring in the illustrations and mass producing her wonderful children’s story.

Potter’s anthropomorphic animals had true animal instincts. They behaved like animals, unlike for example Mr. Toad in “Wind in the Willows,” who behaved like a human – driving cars, dressing up and living in a mansion.

Loved by all, this disobedient little rabbit, broke with the tradition of the young white boy playing the lead role in children’s literature, making Beatrix Potter one of the most successful children’s story writers of all time.

“Winnie the Pooh”

Christopher Robin is Winnie the Pooh’s best friend and wears uneven socks. At the end of the second book, the inhabitants of Hundred Acre Wood throw a farewell party for him, hinting at the fact that he may be off to boarding school.

Piglet is a Very Small Animal with a stutter, whose favourite food are acorns, calling them “hay corns”  and Eeyore is an Old Grey Donkey who keeps losing his tail – he is the Pooh-sticks champion and likes to eat thistles.

Rabbit wants to “unbounce” Tigger and scares Kanga by hiding Roo. He likes to see the Owl (who lives in a tree called the Chestnuts) when there is thinking to be done. Chestnuts gets blown down in a storm, so Owl moves in with Piglet.

Kanga is Roo’s mother; they live near Sandy Pit, and Tigger moves in with them. She cares for Roo, giving him his strengthening medicine: extract of malt. She is a motherly character who offers advice, food to guests and adopts Tigger like her own son.

Roo is a joey; he is Kanga’s son, who gets kidnapped by Rabbit and has a swimming lesson on their Expedition to the North Pole.

Tigger appears in the second book, “bouncing is what Tigger does best” and, like all these characters, is one of Christopher Robin Milne’s teddies.

“Winnie the Pooh” started out in poetry, first appearing in Milne’s collection “When We Were Very Young.” Poem 38 is called “Teddy Bear,” whose début was in Punch Magazine, where A. A. Milne eventually became assistant editor.

“The Chronicles of Narnia”

There are seven books by C. S. Lewis in his Narnia series, which is a fictional realm where animals talk, good battles evil and magic is commonplace.

Aslan is a lion and calls on children to help restore the rightful line to the throne in Narnia.

In “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe,” four siblings go through a wardrobe to Narnia, a magical land where they help Aslan save it from the evil White Witch, who has ruled the place for a century of perpetual winter. The children then become kings and queens of Narnia.

“Prince Caspian, The Return To Narnia,” is their second trip, when Prince Caspian blows Susan’s horn to summon help. Narnia is in ruins and Miraz usurps Caspian’s throne, so the prince flees into the woods. It is the children’s job to save Narnia once again.

“Voyage of the Dawn Treader” is when three of them go looking for the seven banished lords and sail to Aslan’s country at the end of the world.

“Silver Chair” is without the children, where puddle gum and marsh wiggle help search for Caspian’s son.

“Horse and his Boy,” is about Bree the talking horse and a young boy named Shasta, who are trying to escape to Narnia.

“Magician’s Nephew” takes us back to how Aslan created the world, or Narnia, and how evil managed to enter it.

“Last Battle” is when they return to save Narnia in a final showdown between Calormenes and King Tirian.

Narnia is actually a town near Rome, of which C. S. Lewis liked the sound, and many people are confused by the order of events in the seven books, as they don’t necessarily follow a chronological timeline.

Like some of his characters, Lewis lost his mother at a young age and attended boarding school.

C. S. Lewis lived in a large house when he was a child, which is a reminder of The Rock of Gibraltar, where there is a large house with long hallways and empty rooms.

The large house is set on top of a cliff and next to a military barracks where mock battles take place and where there are caves in the background. The place, in turn, is a reminder of the many scenes in the “Chronicles of Narnia.”