Monthly Archives: July 2013

Spotlight: Jan Van Eyck (1390-1441 AD) – a most influential painter


Jan van Eyck, a Flemish painter, is generally considered one of the most significant Northern European painters of the 15th century – only about 23 surviving works are confidently attributed to him.

When Jan van Eyck’s served for Philip the Good (1425 AD), his reputation and technical ability grew – mostly from his innovative approaches towards the handling and manipulating of oil paint. His revolutionary approach to oil was so profound that a myth, perpetuated by Giorgio Vasari, arose that he had invented oil painting.

It is known from historical record that van Eyck was considered a revolutionary master across northern Europe within his lifetime; his designs and methods were heavily copied and reproduced. His motto, one of the first and still most distinctive signatures in art history, ALS IK KAN (“AS I CAN”) first appeared in 1433 on Portrait of a Man in a Turban, which can be seen as indicative of his emerging self-confidence at the time. The years between 1434 and 1436 are generally considered his high point when he produced works including the Madonna of Chancellor RolinLucca Madonna and Virgin and Child with Canon van der Paele.

Records from 1437 on suggest that he was held in high esteem by the upper ranks of Burgundian nobility while also accepting many foreign commissions. He died young in July 1441, leaving behind many unfinished works to be completed by workshop journeymen; works that are nevertheless today considered major examples of Early Flemish painting. His local and international reputation was aided by his ties to the then political and cultural influence of the Burgundian court.

In the earliest significant source on van Eyck, a 1454 biography in Genoese humanist Bartolomeo Facio’s De viris illustribus, Jan van Eyck is named “the leading painter” of his day. Facio places him among the best artists of the early 15th century, along with Rogier van der Weyden, Gentile da Fabriano, and Pisanello. It is particularly interesting that Facio shows as much enthusiasm for Netherlandish painters as he does for Italian painters.

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Spotlight: Arena Chapel Paintings (1305 AD) – one of the most important masterpieces of Western Art

Arena Chapel

The Arena Chapel (Scrovegni Chapel) – a church in Padua, Veneto,Italy – contains a fresco cycle by Giotto, completed about 1305, that is one of the most important masterpieces of Western art.

Giotto’s fresco cycle focuses on the life of the Virgin Mary and celebrates her role in human salvation. A motet by Marchetto da Padova appears to have been composed for the dedication on 25 March 1305.

Before the chapel was built, this area was an open-air procession and sacred representation of the Annunciation to the Virgin for a generation.

Giotto’s Last Judgment covers the entire wall above the chapel’s entrance.  Opposite it, on the chancel arch above the altar, is an unusual scene of God in Heaven dispatching an angel to Earth.  Facing the altar, the narrative sequence begins at the top of the right hand wall with scenes from the life of the Virgin, including the annunciation to her mother, St. Anne, and the presentation at the temple. The series continues through the Nativity, the Passion of Jesus, the Resurrection, and the Pentecost. The panels are noted for their emotional intensity, sculptural figures, and naturalistic space. Beneath the main scenes at dado level, Giotto used a faux architectural scheme of painted marble decorations and small recesses containing figures of the Virtues and Vices painted in grisaille (monotone).

One of the most gripping paintings in the chapel is Giotto’s portrayal of The Kiss of Judas, the moment of betrayal that represents the first step on Jesus’ road to the Crucifixion.

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Spotlight: Notre Dame (1345 AD) – 200 years to build

Notre Dame

This cathedral is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture and among the largest and most well-known church buildings in the world. The naturalism of its sculptures and stained glass are in contrast with earlier Romanesque architecture.  The cathedral treasury is notable for its reliquary which houses some of Catholicism’s most important first-class relics including the purported Crown of Thorns, a fragment of the True Cross, and one of the Holy Nails.

The cathedral has a narrow climb of 387 steps at the top of several spiral staircases; along the climb it is possible to view its most famous bell and its gargoyles in close quarters, as well as having a spectacular view across Paris when reaching the top. The design of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Adelaide, Australia was inspired by Notre-Dame de Paris.

Jean de Jandum recognized the cathedral as one of Paris’s three most important buildings in his 1323 “Treatise on the Praises of Paris.”

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Spotlight: Magna Carta of 1215 AD – the roots of the American Constitution

Magna Carta

Many attempts to draft constitutional forms of government, including the United States Constitution, trace their lineage back to this literature masterpiece –  Magna Carta.  The British dominions, Australia and New Zealand, Canada (except Quebec), and formerly Union of South Africa and Southern Rhodesia, reflected influence of Magna Carta in their law, and the Charter impacted generally on the states that evolved from the British Empire.

The 1215 charter required King John of England to proclaim certain liberties and accept that his will was not arbitrary—for example by explicitly accepting that no “freeman” (in the sense of non-serf) could be punished except through the law of the land, a right that still exists.

Lord Denning described it as “the greatest constitutional document of all times – the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot”. In a 2005 speech, Lord Woolf described it as “first of a series of instruments that now are recognized as having a special constitutional status”, the others being the Habeas Corpus Act (1679), the Petition of Right (1628), the Bill of Rights (1689), and the Act of Settlement (1701).

When American colonists raised arms against Britain, they were fighting not so much for new freedom, but to preserve liberties and rights, as believed to be enshrined in Magna Carta and as later included in the Bill of Rights. American Revolutionaries would supplement this with ideas of natural right.The American Constitution is the supreme law of the land, recalling the manner in which Magna Carta had come to be regarded as fundamental law. This heritage is quite apparent – in comparing Magna Carta with the Bill of Rights

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Spotlight: Secular Music (1100 AD) – or nonreligious music


Secular music is non-religious music. Secular means being separate from religion (not associated or concerned with religion).  In the West, secular music developed in the Medieval period – ca. 1100 AD – and was used in the Renaissance. Swaying authority from the Church that focused more on Common Law influenced all aspects of Medieval life, including music. Secular music in the Middle Ages included love songs, political satire, dances, and dramatic works. Drumsharpsrecorders, and bagpipes were the instruments used in secular music because they were easy for the traveling musicians to tote about. Instruments were taught through oral tradition and provided great dancing music and accompanied the stanzas well.

Words are an important part of secular music. Words were added for most and many common people to sing songs together for entertainment. Music styles were changed by secularization.  The largest collection of secular music from this period comes from poems of celebration and chivalry of the troubadours (composers) from the south of France. These poems contain clever rhyme-schemes, varied use of refrain-lines or words, and different metric patterns.

Secular music also was aided by the formation of literature during the reign of Charlemagne (Charles the Great – King of England) that included a collection of secular and semi-secular songs.

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Spotlight: Tower of London (founded 1066 AD) – conquer it & you control England

Tower of London

The Tower of London has played a prominent role in English history. It was besieged several times and controlling it has been important to controlling the country.  The Tower has served variously as an armory, a treasury, a menagerie, a prison, the home of the Royal Mint, a public records office, and the home of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom.

The castle is made up of three “wards”, or enclosures. The innermost ward contains the White Tower and is the earliest phase of the castle. It was founded towards the end of 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest of England. The White Tower, which gives the entire castle its name, was built by William the Conqueror in 1078, and was a resented symbol of oppression, inflicted upon London by the new ruling elite.

As a whole, the Tower is a complex of several buildings set within two concentric rings of defensive walls and a moat. There were several phases of expansion, mainly under Kings Richard the Lionheart, Henry III, and Edward I in the 12th and 13th centuries. The general layout established by the late 13th century remains despite later activity on the site.

Despite its enduring reputation as a place of torture and death, popularized by 16th-century religious propagandists and 19th-century writers, only seven people were executed within the Tower before the World Wars of the 20th century. Today the Tower of London is one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions. It is cared for by the charity Historic Royal Palaces and is protected as a World Heritage Site.

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eventsfy team


Spotlight: Bayeux Tapestry (1070s AD) – 70 meters long!


The Bayeux Tapestry is an embroidered cloth—not an actual tapestry—nearly 70 meters (230 ft) long, and depicts the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England concerning William, Duke of Normandy and Harold, Earl of Wessex, later King of England–culminating in the Battle of Hastings.

The tapestry consists of some fifty scenes with Latin tituli (captions), embroidered on linen with colored woolen yarns. In 1729 the hanging was rediscovered by scholars at a time when it was being displayed annually in Bayeux Cathedral. The tapestry is now exhibited at Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux in Bayeux, Normandy, France.

The tapestry was cited by Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics as an example of early narrative art and British comic book artist Bryan Talbot has called it “the first known British comic strip.”

Because it resembles a movie storyboard and is widely recognized—by modern standards at least—as so distinctive in its artistic style, the Bayeux Tapestry has frequently been used or re-imagined in a variety of different popular culture contexts. It has inspired many modern political and other cartoons, including the 15 July 1944 cover of the New Yorker magazine marking D-Day; and George Gale’s pastiche chronicling the saga leading up to Britain’s entry into the European Economic Community, published across six pages in The Times’s “Europa” supplement on 1 January 1973.

The tapestry has also inspired modern embroideries—notably the Overlord embroidery commemorating the Normandy landings invasion, now at Portsmouth—and the Prestonpans Tapestry, which chronicles the events surrounding the Battle of Prestonpans in 1745.

A number of films have used sections of the tapestry in their opening credits or closing titles, including: the Disney film Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Anthony Mann’s El Cid, Zeffirelli’s Hamlet, Frank Cassenti’s La Chanson de RolandRobin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and Richard Fleischer’s The Vikings.

The tapestry is referenced in Tony Kushner’s play Angels in America. The apocryphal account of Queen Matilda’s creation of the tapestry is used, perhaps in order to demonstrate that Louis, one of the main characters, holds himself to mythological standards.

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