28 August 2008

More Mosaics

Thanks to Irene Hahn of Roman History Books and More for the heads up of a new set of pages at livius.org on Byzantium/Constantinople, including this page of photos from the Mosaic Museum. Wikipedia (caveat quaerens) also has an article on the museum, from which this public domain picture is taken.

27 August 2008

Europa - the 18th and 19th Centuries

After previous posts covering Europa in the 15th and 16th centuries and in the 17th century, I'd like to move on to the 18th and 19th centuries.

These two pictures were painted around 1720, the one on the left by Tiepolo (now in Venice's Galleria dell'Academia but not on their website) and the one on the right by Ricci (now in Rome's Palazzo Taverna, no website, but see this view and further information (click on loudspeaker for audio commentary as well) from when the picture was exhibited at the National Gallery of Australia).

Ferretti painted a Rape of Europa from 1728 to 1737. It is now in Florence's Galleria Uffizi, though it was displayed for a long time in the Chamber of Deputies of the Italian Parliament, whose website shows the central part of the picture. A better reproduction can be seen at the Web Gallery of Art. At much the same time, Boucher also painted a Rape of Europa, now in London's Wallace Collection.

Shortly afterwards in 1750, Pierre painted this version, now in the Dallas Museum of Art (not possible to link directly -- go to View, then Collections and search for Abduction of Europa).

Gustave Moreau seems to have painted Europa at least five times in the last third of the 19th century though hard and fast information is hard to come by. The above picture is in Moreau's former home, which he left to the nation and is now the Musée Gustave-Moreau (not on the museum's website but in the French Ministère de Culture's Jaconde database, together with another picture of Europa -- to see studies towards these pictures click on the 1 near the bottom of the page).

This version of Europa by Moreau is in Hartford's Wadsworth Atheneum, again not on the museum's website. Moreau did other paintings of Europa, one of which is now in Paris's Musée d'Orsay and another one in Rouen's Musée de Beaux-Arts (not on the Museum's website but on this commercial site).

An 1872 terracotta of Europa and the Bull by Louis Hubert-Noel is now in South Carolina's Columbia Museum of Art. (All illustrations in the public domain via wiki commons media)

19 August 2008

Saint Benedict and his Rule

Cadfael is, of course, a Benedictine monk. Benedictine monks follow the Rule written by Saint Benedict, who lived in Italy in the late 5th/early 6th centuries. After living as a hermit for three years, he was asked to become the leader of a group of monks. The monks found his leadership and the way of life he tried to inculcate more demanding than they wished and they tried to poison him. He survived the attempts on his life and withdrew from the monastery, founding new monasteries for followers who still wished to attach themselves to him. To guide them in following a monastic life he wrote his Rule, which has been the basis for Western monasticism ever since. The picture on the left showing Saint Benedict presenting the Rule to monks is from an 1129 manuscript (i.e., a manuscript contemporary with the setting of the Cadfael stories), now in the British Museum. (public domain picture taken from The Catholic Encyclopedia)

Although not really a biography in the modern sense, a life of Saint Benedict written by Pope Gregory the Great, who was able to interview people who worked with Saint Benedict, does still exist. Paul Halsall's Medieval Sourcebook has a modernised version of a 17th century translation. An early 20th century account of Saint Benedict's life and work can be read in The Catholic Encyclopedia.

The Medieval Sourcebook also has a translation of parts of Saint Benedict's Rule done by Ernest F. Henderson in 1910. A complete translation of the Rule, originating from a Benedictine monastery in Kansas, can be found at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library. The Catholic Encylopedia entry on the Rule of Saint Benedict summarises the Rule and has an extensive discussion.

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The map shows Italy at the time Benedict lived, while the satellite image shows Monte Cassino Abbey, the monastery founded by Saint Benedict, as it is today. (map by Sean and Carmen Butcher via wikimedia commons under Creative Commons Licence)

17 August 2008

Europa -- The 17th Century

My previous post on the theme of Europa showed its use by artists in the 15th and 16th centuries. Let's continue now into the 17th century.

These two pictures show Europa being carried off by Jupiter in bull disguise, but still near the shore. The one on the left was painted in the early years of the 17th century by Antonio Carraci and is now in Bologna's Pinacoteca. The picture on the right dating to 1632 (now in Los Angeles' Getty Center) is by Rembrandt. It is discussed at length on philologos and on the wikimedia commons page from which this reproduction is taken.

Europa and Jupiter are out at sea in this picture by Guido Reni, painted at about the same time as Rembrandt's picture and now in London's National Gallery. Albani painted two versions of this story, the one shown here, now in Florence's Galeria di Uffizi (not shown on their website) and one in
St. Petersburg's Hermitage
. Again at the same time, Simon Vouet's painting below (now in Madrid's Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza) shows Europa and the bull still on land. (public domain reproduction taken from Museum Syndicate)

Claude Lorrain put Europa and the bull in no less than five paintings ranging from 1634 to 1667. The earliest is in Fort Worth's Kimbell Art Museum (no direct link possible. Search for Europa.) Lorrain's next version of Europa and Jupiter, dated to 1647 is on loan to Utrecht's Centraal Museum, but does not appear to be on their website. Lorrain's third version of the story (1655) is in Moscow's Pushkin Museum but not on their website. It can, however, be seen on the website of Houston's Museum of Fine Arts from when it was on loan there. The fourth version is in a private collection, while Lorrain's fifth and last version is in The Royal Collection. The Web Gallery of Art has a reproduction of the fifth version, with a discussion of Lorrain's different versions of the Europa and the bull. (except where stated, all reproductions are in the public domain and from wikimedia commons.)

15 August 2008

The Norman Kings

When William I (aka William the Conqueror or William the Bastard) died in 1087, he left behind three sons. The sons, descending order of age, were called Robert, William, and Henry. William I left the Duchy of Normandy to Robert, and the English throne to William. William II (aka William Rufus) died in mysterious circumstances while hunting in the New Forest in 1100. He was shot with a bow and arrow, but there has been speculation almost ever since about whether it was an accident or deliberate murder (plenty of candidates for the position of murderer -- and he does not seem to have been a popular monarch so plenty of motive as well). Henry, the youngest of William the Conqueror's sons, was in the hunting party and made a dash for Winchester, where the royal treasury was kept, and then Westminster, where he was crowned King Henry I three days later. Robert was unfortunately away on the Crusades at the time and so he missed the opportunity.

Henry was handsome and well-educated by contemporary standards (it is possible that his father had intended for him to become a bishop). He also had the highest number of acknowledged illegitimate children of any English monarch, somewhere between 20 and 25, but only one legitimate son, known as William the Atheling. Henry's first wife, William the Atheling's mother, was a descendant of the Anglo-Saxon royal family, which endeared Henry and William to the conquered English.

When Henry's brother Robert returned from the first crusade, war broke out between the two of them when Robert invaded England in 1101. Henry finally won the war at the battle of Tinchebray in 1106, thus re-uniting England and Normandy under his own rule. This meant quite a bit of to-ing and fro-ing across the Channel. On one such trip in 1120 Henry was offered the use of a ship in Barfleur, Normandy.

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He had already made travelling arrangements but suggested his son and his friends use the ship, called The White Ship. The White Ship had hardly left Barfleur (point A on the above map, click to get rid of the balloon) when it struck a rock and sank. Everyone on board except for one man died. Stories emerged afterwards that the crew and passengers had all been drunk and had made large bets that they could overtake the king, who had left earlier. This meant that when Henry died in 1135, his only legitimate child was his daughter, Maud or Matilda. Although Henry had forced his barons to swear to accept her as his heir, when it came to it many refused to be ruled by a woman and turned to Stephen, the son of William the Conqueror's daughter Adela.

Mediaevalists do not seem to have been as diligent as classicists at putting original documents and translations online but the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is up, albeit in a rather hard to read typeface. To see what it has to say on the events described above, go to the year concerned. The two main historians are William of Malmesbury and Orderic Vitalis, neither of whose works are on line. Orderic Vitalis's father was instrumental in persuading Roger of Montgomery, the Earl of Shrewsbury, to found Shrewsbury Abbey, Cadfael's monastery.

BBC Radio 4's progamme In Our Time featured a discussion on relations between Normans and Anglo-Saxons after the Conquest, which you can listen to online. Despite all the references to podcasts, it doesn't appear to be downloadable. Click 'Listen to this programme in full' to hear the discussion.

Paul Halsall's Medieval Sourcebook has extracts from Peter of Blois on William Rufus and Henry I, and from Orderic Vitalis on Henry I.

Dante Gabriel Rosetti wrote a poem on the sinking of the White Ship. Channel 4's website has an article on William the Atheling and the White Ship disaster. (The two illustrations in this post are in the public domain and come via wikipedia.)

13 August 2008

Sepphoris/Zippori Mosaics

I just saw this report from the BBC about a Roman temple found in Zippori, Israel. The report mentions in passing that Zippori is famous for its mosaics, and being a sucker for mosaics, I looked for more information. The dig website has a page on mosaics. Another site has more pictures but no explanatory text.

Just to whet your appetite, here is a public domain picture from wikimedia commons:

12 August 2008

Europa and the Bull

Ovid's next story (in Tony Kline's translation as usual), at the end of Book II, and somewhat cursorily finished off at the beginning of Book III, tells of Europa's abduction by Jupiter. Jupiter fell in love with Europa, a Phoenician princess. He took the form of a white bull and together with a herd of cattle he met the princess while she was playing on the beach. He coaxed her onto his back and splashed about in the shallows, and then headed out to sea with her on his back, taking her to Crete. (Robert Scarth's picture of bull via wikimedia commons, used under creative commons licence 2.5)

This story has inspired an overwhelming number of artists, so I'll divide my exploration of this theme into a number of posts.

Let's start with two works from the 15th century. Bartolomeo Bellano or Vellano sculpted this bronze of Europa and the Bull in the 1480s or 1490s (now in Florence's Museo Nazionale del Bargello but not on their website). Another bronze possibly by Andrea Briosco (aka Il Ricco) is now in Budapest's Szépművészeti Múzeum.

Dürer's 1490 sketch for this subject is now in Vienna's Albertina museum, but again not on their website as far as I can see.

This 1560 picture by Titian is now in Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Veronese painted two versions of Europa and the Bull, the one shown below is in London's National Gallery, the other is in the Doge's palace in Venice.

(Both illustrations in the public domain, the Titian via wiki commons media, the Veronese via Museum Syndicate.)

06 August 2008


While looking for material on the story of Europa, I came across this fascinating blog, which unfortunately seems to have been dormant since last November. Nevertheless, the archived posts are well worth reading.

03 August 2008

Hardcore History is Back

After a brief absence Dan Carlin's Hardcore History is back, with the first in a two-part podcast on the Punic Wars. He focusses more on a broad overview and what it was like to experience than on the names and dates and does a pretty good job of evoking things which we, hopefully, will never have to live through.

02 August 2008

Mercury, Aglauros and Herse

You may remember from the story of Coronis that on its way to tell Apollo about Coronis's infidelity, the raven met a crow. The crow told the raven how she had similarly told Minerva about the disobedience of Aglauros, who persuaded her sisters to open a basket in defiance of Minerva's orders. The basket contained a child and a snake, or in other versions of the story, a child with a snake's tail, and the three sisters went mad and threw themselves off the Acropolis. In Ovid's version, however, although the tittle-tattle crow is punished by being turned black (before that crows were white), the sisters remain unscathed. But Minerva remembers.

Later Mercury falls in love with Herse, one of Aglauros's sisters. He comes for a visit, and meets Aglauros, who agrees to help him -- for a price. Minerva is horrified that this woman who disobeyed her will be in Mercury's good books and will be rich as well. Minerva goes to Envy and asks her to touch Aglauros, who then, envying her sister's good fortune, tries to bar Mercury's way. Mercury turns her to stone. Tony Kline's translation of Ovid's version of the story.

Let's look first at pictures of Aglauros and her sisters with Erichthonius (aka Erechtheus), the child with the snake or snake's tail. I haven't been able to find the whereabouts of the upper picture, painted in 1620 by Jasper van der Laanen, although it was sold at auction quite recently. The slightly later picture (1635-40) below it is by Jacob Jordaens (now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna). Rubens also painted a picture on this theme just before van der Laanen (now in the Liechtenstein Museum).

The moment when Mercury, flying over Attica, first sees Herse has proved popular with artists. Jacob Pynas, who painted Mercury and Battus, also painted Mercury and Herse at around the same time in 1618 (painting now in Florence's Uffizi Gallery but not on their website). Thomas Blanchet's Mercury and Herse (1650) is now in the Portland Art Museum where its provenance is currently under investigation to see whether it was looted during the Second World War. Jan or Johann Boeckhorst also painted a Mercury and Hermes in the early 1650s (now in Vienna's Kunsthistorische Museum) Gerard Hoet's Mercury and Herse (1710) is now in Pasadena's Norton Simon Museum.

More unusually, Karel Dujardin painted this 1652 picture of Minerva visiting Envy (now in Vienna's Gemäldegalerie der Akademie der bildende Künste, but not as far as I can tell on its website).

Veronese painted a picture of Aglauros blocking Mercury's way to Herse in the late 1570s or early 1580s (now in Cambridge's Fitzwilliam Museum). Carel Fabritius painted the picture on the right, which shows Aglauros blocking Mercury's way (1646, now in Boston's Museum of Fine Arts). (The two pictures above are in the public domain from wikipedia, the one on the right is also in the public domain and is from museumsyndicate)