Monthly Archives: October 2013

Spotlight: an iconic oil painting of our most admired leader – President George Washington


The Lansdowne portrait is an iconic oil-on-canvas portrait of George Washington, the first President of the United States. The portrait was commissioned in April 1796 by Senator William Bingham of Pennsylvania—one of the wealthiest men in the U.S. at the time. The portrait measures 8 by 5 feet and was given as a gift of appreciation to British Prime Minister, William Petty FitzMaurice. Petty-FitzMaurice was an American sympathizer who supported independence of the colonies in Parliament. He succeeded in securing peace with America during his term as Prime Minister of Great Britain. The Lansdowne portrait was completed in the fall of that year by American artist Gilbert Stuart, who made several other portraits of George Washington, and many others of prominent American revolutionaries. The painting shows Washington (then at 64 years old) renouncing a third term as U.S. President. It is currently on permanent display at the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution. Replicas painted by Stuart are on display in the East Room of the White House, the Old State House in Hartford, Connecticut, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Museum. Additional copies painted by other artists are displayed in the U.S. House Chamber and the Rayburn room of the Capitol.

In 2001, The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation committed $30 million to buy the painting and created a permanent home for it at the National Portrait Gallery where it had previously been on anonymous loan.

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Spotlight: Age of Enlightenment spawned artistic masterpieces, which spawned the “Declaration of Independence” along with this sacred document.

Declaration of the rights of man

The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789 AD) is a fundamental document of the French Revolution and in the history of human rights—defining the individual and collective rights of all the estates of the realm as universal. Influenced by the doctrine of “natural right”, the rights of man are held to be universal: valid at all times and in every place, pertaining to human nature itself.

The concepts in the Declaration come from the philosophical and political duties of the Enlightenment Era, such as individualism, the social contract as theorized by the French philosopher Rousseau, and the separation of powers espoused by the Baron de Montesquieu. As can be seen in the texts, the French declaration is heavily influenced by the political philosophy of the Enlightenment, and by Enlightenment principles of human rights, some of which it shares with the U.S. Declaration of Independence which preceded it (4 July 1776). During the creation of the French Declaration, Thomas Jefferson – primary author of the U.S. Declaration of Independence – was in France as a U.S. diplomat and was in correspondence with members of the French National Constituent Assembly. The authorship and the people who influenced its content were the same people who took part in shaping both documents.

This Declaration is in the spirit of what has come to be called “secular natural law”, which does not base itself on religious doctrine or authority but with traditional natural law theory.

This Declaration defines a single set of individual and collective rights for all men. Influenced by the doctrine of natural rights, these rights are held to be universal and valid in all times and places. For example, “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good.” They have certain natural rights to property, to liberty and to life. According to this theory the role of government is to recognize and secure these rights. Furthermore government should be carried on by elected representatives

The Declaration is introduced by a preamble describing the fundamental characteristics of the rights which are qualified as being “natural, unalienable and sacred” and consisting of “simple and incontestable principles” on which citizens could base their demands. In the second article, “the natural and imprescriptible rights of man” are defined as “liberty, property, security and resistance to oppression”. It called for the destruction of aristocratic privileges by proclaiming an end to exemptions from taxation, freedom and equal rights for all human beings (referred to as “Men”), and access to public office based on talent. The monarchy was restricted, and all citizens were to have the right to take part in the legislative process. Freedom of speech and press were declared, and arbitrary arrests outlawed

The declaration has also influenced and inspired rights-based liberal democracy throughout the world. It was translated as soon as 1793–94 by Colombian Antonio Nariño, who published it despite the Inquisition and was sentenced to be imprisoned for ten years for doing so. In 2003, the document was listed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World register.

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Spotlight: President Thomas Jefferson lived at this beautiful, artistic estate?


Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, who – after inheriting quite a large amount of land from his father – started building Monticello when he was twenty-six years old. Located just outside Charlottesville, Virginia, in the Piedmont region, the estate/plantation was originally 5,000 acres (2,000 ha) with extensive cultivation of tobacco and mixed crops, with labor by slaves. What started as a mainly tobacco plantation switched over to a wheat plantation later in Jefferson’s life.

The house, which Jefferson designed, was based on the neoclassical principles described in the books of the Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio. He reworked it through much of his presidency to include design elements popular in late eighteenth-century Europe. It contains many of his own design solutions. The house is situated on the summit of an 850-foot (260 m)-high peak in the Southwest Mountains south of the Rivanna Gap. Monticello means “little mount” in Italian. The plantation at full operations included numerous outbuildings for specialized functions, a nailery, and quarters for domestic slaves along Mulberry Row near the house; gardens for flowers, produce, and Jefferson’s experiments in plant breeding; plus tobacco fields and mixed crops. Cabins for field slaves were located further from the mansion.

At Jefferson’s direction, he was buried on the grounds, an area now designated as the Monticello Cemetery, which is owned by the Monticello Association, a lineage society of his descendants through Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson. After Jefferson’s death, his daughter Martha Jefferson Randolph sold the property. After other owners, in 1834 it was bought by Uriah P. Levy, a commodore in the U.S. Navy, who admired Jefferson and spent his own money to preserve the property. His nephew Jefferson Monroe Levy took over the property in 1879; he also invested considerable money to restore and preserve it. He held it until 1923, when he sold it to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which operates it as a house museum and educational institution. It has been designated a National Historic Landmark. In 1987 Monticello and the nearby University of Virginia, also designed by Jefferson, were together designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Monticello’s image has appeared on U.S. currency and postage stamps. An image of the west front of Monticello by Felix Schlag has been featured on the reverse of the nickel minted since 1938 (with a brief interruption in 2004 and 2005, when designs of the Westward Journey series appeared instead).

Monticello also appeared on the reverse of the two-dollar bill from 1928 to 1966, when the bill was discontinued. The current bill was introduced in 1976 and retains Jefferson’s portrait on the obverse but replaced Monticello on the reverse with an engraved modified reproduction of John Trumbull’s painting Declaration of Independence. The gift shop at Monticello hands out two-dollar bills as change.

So be sure to visit the Monticello the next time you visit Virginia!

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Spotlight: Bach, Brahm, and ‘who’ was among the Big Three Bs of classical music (hint…he lost his hearing)?


Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), a German composer and pianist, was a crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras of Western art music.  He still remains one of the most famous and influential composers of all time. His best known compositions include 9 symphonies, 5 concertos for piano, 32 piano sonatas, and 16 string quartets.

Born in Bonn, then the capital of the Electorate of Cologne and part of the Holy Roman Empire, Beethoven displayed his musical talents at an early age and was taught by his father Johann van Beethoven and Christian Gottlob Neefe.  During his first 22 years in Bonn, Beethoven intended to study with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and befriended Joseph Haydn. Beethoven moved to Vienna in 1792 and began studying with Haydn, quickly gaining a reputation as a virtuoso pianist. He lived in Vienna until his death in 1827.

As early as 1801, Beethoven wrote to friends describing his hearing-loss symptoms and the difficulties they caused in both professional and social settings.  Beethoven, on the advice of his doctor, lived in the small Austrian town of Heiligenstadt, just outside Vienna, from April to October 1802 in an attempt to come to terms with his hearing loss. There he wrote his Heiligenstadt Testament, a letter to his brothers which records his thoughts of suicide due to his growing deafness and records his resolution to continue living for and through his art.

Beethoven is acknowledged as one of the giants of classical music; he is occasionally referred to as one of the “three Bs” (along with Bach and Brahms) who epitomize that tradition. He was also a pivotal figure in the transition from the 18th century musical classicism to 19th century romanticism, and his influence on subsequent generations of composers was profound. His music features twice on the Voyager Golden Record, a phonograph record containing a broad sample of the images, common sounds, languages, and music of Earth, sent into outer space with the two Voyager probes.

Various movies and television miniseries have portrayed this iconic figure.

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