Renaissance

One thing that I like about Renaissance humanists is that they never slavishly copied ancient Rome. They weren’t LARPers – they never wore togas, or revived gladiatorial combat, or made sacrifices to Jupiter, or discerned the will of the gods from the flight patterns of birds. No, they generally cherry-picked what they most admired (the form of the Latin language, fonts to set it in, and certain architectural details are the three that come most easily to mind). Most importantly, what they revived was a principle, that life was no longer to be a vale of tears, with one’s reward coming in the afterlife, but was meant to be lived – not in a hedonistic way, but a self-actualizing one: God gave us talents, and we honor God when we develop those talents. Since pagans didn’t have much of an afterlife to look forward to, their earthly life was all they had, and they were to use it for self-improvement and the gaining of personal glory. (Whether Romans actually lived by this principle is another question, but certain influential fifteenth-century Florentines certainly believed that they did.)

So in many ways the Renaissance was simply a “naissance,” a birth of something new, as people operated on the principle that they could do anything, because no one said they couldn’t. Mathematical perspective, for instance, was not something that the Romans ever invented, but Renaissance artists. (In other ways, of course, the Renaissance was simply a continuation of the Middle Ages, or so I am compelled to state by virtue of my membership in the medievalists’ guild.)

But speaking of art, I do think it’s a shame that art was such a dominant mode of self-expression in the Renaissance. The paintings and sculptures of Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, and everyone else mentioned in Vasari’s Lives of the Artists are usually the first thing that comes to mind when one hears the word “Renaissance.” Don’t get me wrong, I think that Renaissance art is wonderful, but one regrets that science was not equally as fashionable among the humanists. (I read something once that claimed that scientific enquiry took a step backward in the Renaissance, overshadowed as it was by all the art and literature.) It would have made the Renaissance even better, say, if more people had taken up Leonardo’s engineering projects. As it stands contemporaries had to wait until 1590 before they could read Galileo’s De Motu (On Motion), part of what was now no longer the Renaissance, but the Scientific Revolution.

St. George Goes to War

One reason why the St. George legend has such staying power is that the dragon can stand in for any bad thing. As we celebrate the centenary of the end of the First World War, here are a couple of examples of how he was employed in the propaganda of both sides:

Pinterest

This one, by an unknown artist, was published in London by Spottiswoode and Co. in 1915 for the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee.

Wikipedia

And this one, by Maximilian Lenz, was published in Vienna in 1917 for the sixth war bond campaign of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

In both cases one’s own army is cast as the good St. George, and the enemy as the evil dragon. I suppose it’s a good thing that British and Austro-Hungarian troops did not face each other directly all that much, otherwise St. George might not have known what side to take! (Last Saturday, Sasha Volokh asked, in seriousness, what happens when two powers dedicated to St. George fight against each other, e.g. Russia and Georgia in 2008. I said that I did not know, but I suppose it only really matters if people actually believe in the power of saints as heavenly intercessors and not just as mascots or symbols – and even then I suppose it’s no different from both sides believing in God and praying to him for victory.)

These posters raise a serious point though. I like St. George, obviously, but sometimes the legend does promote self-righteousness. We all like to believe that we’re in the right, and the other side is in the wrong, but we must keep in mind that this might not always be the case! But since there can be no compromise between good and evil, the Manichaeism on display here, I think, would tend to discourage people from seeking a negotiated settlement, and to encourage them to keep digging, even though they’re already in a hole.

A New St. George

I was pleased to discover another St. George just now in the office of my colleague Judith Irvine:

As you can see from the Amharic script, this one is Ethiopian, and is part of a long parchment strip that includes other images. St. George’s cape is wacky, and he seems to be disproportionately drawn, but I like how this image doesn’t just have the hand of God coming out of the sky, but the face of God himself! St. George keeps his eyes on God, and his spears still hit the dragon right in the mouth (“Use the Force, Luke”). It’s interesting how he’s using throwing spears, and not a lance, as he’s usually depicted.

Addendum: Another discovery:

Wikipedia

The ribbon of Saint George is a widely recognized symbol of remembrance of the Soviet people who fought in the Great Patriotic War, WWII. The ribbon consists of a black and orange bicolour pattern, with three black and two orange stripes. It appears as a component of many high military decorations awarded by the Russian Empire, and the current Russian Federation.

The stripes signify the fire and fog of war. While the symbol is primarily related to WWII, it has recently become more associated with Russian nationalism. The symbol was promoted by the post-soviet Russian state as a way to unify people and remember and respect those that fought.

It was also promoted in 2005 as a response to the liberal Orange Revolution in Ukraine. That year, Russian state media along with youth organizations launched the campaign ahead of World War II memorial celebrations. The ribbon was associated with units who were awarded the collective Guard battle honours during the conflict, due to the usage of the color scheme in the Great Patriotic War victory medal awarded to all personnel, civilian or military, who aided the war effort.

In Russia, the ribbon of Saint George is also used by civilians as a patriotic symbol and as a symbol of public support to the Russian government, particularly since 2014. In Ukraine and the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), the symbol has become widely associated with Russian nationalist and separatist sentiment.

New Echota

On Saturday we had the pleasure of visiting New Echota State Historical Site near Calhoun. New Echota was the capital of the Cherokee Nation from 1825 until 1838, when U.S. government forces, under the command of Winfield Scott, rounded them up and forced their removal to Oklahoma. This is the infamous Trail of Tears, and a monument commemorates this as you arrive at the visitors’ center.

The flag on the left is that of the United Keetoowah Band, and the flags on the right are those of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Cherokee Nation, the three federally-recognized Cherokee tribes. (The United Keetoowah Band and the Cherokee Nation are headquartered in Tahlequah, Okla., while the Eastern Band is headquartered in Cherokee, N.C.)

A plan of the site. Alas, the Worcester House (8) is the only original building here. This was the home of Samuel Worcester, a missionary to the Cherokee and publisher of the Cherokee Phoenix (see below). Convicted by the state of Georgia for living in Cherokee territory without a license, Worcester appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which found the Georgia law unconstitutional, as it was the federal government that had the exclusive right to treat with Native Americans. President Andrew Jackson is reputed to have said in response that “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!” Worcester went west with the Cherokee and died there in 1861.

Other buildings are reconstructions, like the Council House (3), where the Cherokee legislature convened…

…or the Supreme Courthouse (4), which doubled as a school.

What made this visit especially pleasurable was to see Reinhardt history graduate Cole Gregory, now employed with the state parks service. Here he is in the Vann Tavern (9), explaining how it worked (an interesting detail: a window on the back served as a drive-thru for people that the manager did not want coming in). James Vann was a Cherokee leader who owned several taverns; this one does date from the early nineteenth century but was originally located in Forsyth County and moved here in the 1950s.

The reconstructed Print Shop (11) represents the locale of the famous Cherokee Phoenix. A friendly and knowledgeable volunteer explained things to us. The newspaper was largely written by Elias Boudinot, who believed that relocation to the west was in the best interests of the Cherokee and who thus signed the Treaty of New Echota with the federal government. This “Treaty Party” represented a minority of the Cherokee Nation, and the signatories, including Boudinot, were assassinated not long after they arrived in Oklahoma.

You can buy a copy of Vol. 1, No. 4 in the gift shop. This one contains notice of Cherokee laws passed, news of ongoing negotiations with Washington, poetry, and news of the escape of some missionaries from Maori cannibals. As you can see, it is printed both in English and in Cherokee, using Sequoyah’s syllabary. (We learned that they type foundry had changed some of his characters for easier casting – and that archaeologists at New Echota had recovered a cache of individual letters [“sorts”] at the bottom of a well, into which they had been thrown by U.S. troops in 1838.)

We were pleased to find this book in the gift shop. John Ross was a Cherokee leader who opposed forced resettlement in the west; his house is in Rossville, Georgia, less than 1000 feet from the Tennessee state line. Jeff Bishop is Reinhardt’s new director of the Funk Heritage Center and, as you can see, an expert in Cherokee history.

***

On our way home we stopped at the Rock Garden, situated behind Calhoun’s Seventh-Day Adventist Church. The Rock Garden is the creation of one DeWitt “Old Dog” Boyd, and features sculptures made up pebbles glued together to form miniature buildings. My favorite was this interpretation of Notre Dame cathedral, complete with flying buttresses, but I loved the whole thing – I respect anyone with the vision and the patience to realize art like this, like Howard Finster and his Paradise Garden.

Fake Miniatures

From Aeon:

One popular image floating around Facebook and Pinterest has worm-like demons cavorting inside a molar. It claims to illustrate the Ottoman conception of dental cavities, a rendition of which has now entered Oxford’s Bodleian Library as part of its collection on ‘Masterpieces of the non-Western book’. Another shows a physician treating a man with what appears to be smallpox. These contemporary images are in fact not ‘reproductions’ but ‘productions’ and even fakes – made to appeal to a contemporary audience by claiming to depict the science of a distant Islamic past.

From Istanbul’s tourist shops, these works have ventured far afield. They have have found their way into conference posters, education websites, and museum and library collections. The problem goes beyond gullible tourists and the occasional academic being duped: many of those who study and publicly present the history of Islamic science have committed themselves to a similar sort of fakery. There now exist entire museums filled with reimagined objects, fashioned in the past 20 years but intended to represent the venerable scientific traditions of the Islamic world.

The irony is that these fake miniatures and objects are the product of a well-intentioned desire: a desire to integrate Muslims into a global political community through the universal narrative of science. That wish seems all the more pressing in the face of a rising tide of Islamophobia. But what happens when we start fabricating objects for the tales we want to tell? Why do we reject the real material remnants of the Islamic past for their confected counterparts? What exactly is the picture of science in Islam that are we hoping to find? These fakes reveal more than just a preference for fiction over truth. Instead, they point to a larger problem about the expectations that scholars and the public alike saddle upon the Islamic past and its scientific legacy.

Read the whole thing. It’s amazing how much fake stuff there is out there.

Cowboys and Mounties

CineMasterpieces.

One enduring embodiment of the American male is the cowboy. He is a rugged individual on the western frontier, living by skill of his hand and the sweat of his brow, voluntarily submitting to a cowboy code of honor and unafraid of defending his property with armed force if need be. Innumerable Western-themed movies and television shows have ensured that we all admire cowboys, or at least that we know one when we see one, dressed in some combination of the cowboy hat, bandana, leather vest, jeans, chaps, and boots, carrying a six-shooter or lasso, and riding his trusty horse. 

Wikipedia.

A Canadian male, by contrast, will find himself well reflected by the Mountie, that is, a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. A Mountie’s distinctive uniform of red tunic, Sam Browne belt, beige stetson hat, and dark blue breeches with a gold stripe down each leg make him instantly recognizable. Like the cowboy, the Mountie operates in the west of his country, and often acts independently, with a reputation of great competence and integrity, but there the similarity stops, for the Mountie represents state authority, not private enterprise. To this day the RCMP acts as Canada’s FBI, and in most provinces as the provincial police as well. That we are familiar with Mounties can also be attributed to cinema – “Northerns,” that is, Westerns set in the Yukon and featuring Mounties as the main protagonists, were popular between the wars.

The famous Marlboro Man. From The Lyrical Elitist.

This difference between the cowboy and the Mountie is one of the alleged fundamental differences between the United States and Canada. The difference is also reflected in the founding documents of each country. America’s 1776 Declaration of Independence values “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” while the British North America Act of 1867 was passed to ensure “Peace, Order, and Good Government.” It does seem to me, as someone who has lived in both countries, that Americans are more comfortable with private initiative, and Canadians with government intervention, than the opposites.

A depiction of the RCMP’s Musical Ride on the reverse of the Canadian $50 note, in circulation 1975-89. From the website of the Bank of Canada Museum.

As mentioned, Mounties enjoy a pretty good reputation. The idea is that they really do “maintain the right” (their motto), and they “always get their man.” The cartoon character Dudley Do-Right, from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show (1959-64), offers a lighthearted satire on this image, but his surname is fully in accord with it. That this idea was largely promulgated by Hollywood, and not by any Canadian organization, is even more remarkable. Canadians like to believe that Americans are only interested in themselves, and constantly rewrite history to make themselves the heroes of it. In this instance, though, they voluntarily burnished the image of the state police force of a foreign country, somewhat uncharacteristically.

This whole topic came to mind again recently, when I found our copy of Looking North: Royal Canadian Mounted Police Illustrations – The Potlatch Collection (2003) by Karal Ann Marling, an art history professor at the University of Minnesota. The Northwest Paper Company of Cloquet, Minnesota (i.e., nowhere in Canada!), sponsored an advertising campaign featuring the Mountie doing Mountie things, all in his bright red tunic to show off the superior quality of their product. The Mountie’s alleged qualities of integrity and courage also polished the company’s image.

The campaign, the brainchild of Chicago ad man Frank Cash, started in 1931, at a time when advertising agencies employed highly talented artists who could produce beautiful and realistic paintings on demand, and when the weekly newsmagazine (e.g. Life or The Saturday Evening Post) served as a far-reaching vehicle for them. Arnold Friburg, Hal Foster, and Paul Proehl were responsible for the three reproduced here.

As a born Canadian, I am proud that the Mounties enjoy such an upright reputation. Unfortunately, they haven’t always lived up to it, or so I discover from Wikipedia’s “List of controversies involving the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.” Some choice ones:

• On the night of May 6, 1972, the RCMP Security Service burned down a barn owned by Paul Rose‘s and Jacques Rose‘s mother in Sainte-Anne-de-la-Rochelle, Quebec. They suspected that separatists were planning to meet with members of the Black Panthers from the United States. The arson came after they failed to convince a judge to allow them to wiretap the alleged meeting place.

• There have been many Inuit accounts related to the alleged killings of sled dogs during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, as well as the impact of the federal government’s efforts during that time to relocate Inuit into modern settlements.

• The RCMP bombed an oilsite in Alberta October 14, 1999, on the instructions of the Alberta Energy Co. No injuries were caused or intended. The Crown lawyers, representing the government, accepted that the allegations were true. An Alberta farmer was blamed for the bombing.

• The Robert Dziekański Taser incident occurred when a Polish immigrant who arrived at the Vancouver International Airport on October 14, 2007, and waited 10 hours at the airport before being taken into police custody. He died after being tasered a total of five times by a group of four RCMP officers and then placed face down with several officers sitting on top of him.

• In October 2016, RCMP commissioner Bob Paulson apologized for what he referred to as “shameful conduct” by the organization. An internal investigation determined that up to 20,000 female officers and civilian employees since 1974 may have been the victims of harassment, discrimination, and/or sexual abuse.

On a more general level, “American historian Andrew Graybill has argued that the Mounted Police closely resemble the Texas Rangers in many ways. He argues that each protected the established order by confining and removing Indians, by tightly controlling the mixed blood peoples (the African Americans in Texas and the Métis in Canada), assisted the large-scale ranchers against the small-scale ranchers and farmers who fenced the land, and broke the power of labour unions that tried to organize the workers of industrial corporations.”

So, as ever, one must take care to examine both sides of an issue…

Addendum: A group of musically-inclined policemen from Windsor, Ontario calling themselves The Brothers-in-Law recorded a satirical song on the RCMP for their album Oh! Oh! Canada in 1965.

Addendum: How could I have forgotten RCMP Constable Benton Fraser, the main character of the television series Due South (1994-99)? This was a Canadian show, although set in Chicago. True to form, “Fraser is a strait-laced Canadian, and his faith in the honour and goodness of others tends to lead to interesting and humorous moments.”

From Kevin Harty

My thanks to Kevin Harty for a new St. George. This is a postcard of the right hand side of a triptych entitled The Angel of Victory, which was painted in 1941 by one Violet Oakley. The Angel himself occupies the central panel, and St. Michael is displayed on the left. You can see the whole thing at the website of the Delaware Museum of Art. It represents “the first of her 25 wartime altarpieces, completed just two weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor.”

As chance would have it, Kevin has also just reviewed the latest (and apparently last) installment in the Sharknado franchise. From Richard Utz’s Medievally Speaking:

In Travels in Hyperreality, Umberto Eco notes that we are always “messing up” the Middle Ages to meet a variety of agendas.  The Camelot segment in The Last Sharknado is a brilliant example of just that kind of “messing up.” To a popular culture enthusiast, it is an authentic example of “the medieval.” It has a castle, a dragon, a group of peasants, an evil Morgana, a wise Merlin, and a brave knight who wields a special, magical sword to save the day. It even furthers its authenticity by referencing such other authentic examples of “the medieval” as A Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings, with a nod to The Wizard of Oz thrown in for good measure. And it casts as its Merlin and Morgana two “real” television celebrities, from admittedly opposite ends of the celebrity spectrum: the well-known physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is a ubiquitous television and radio talking head on any number of scientific topics, and the truly outrageous Alaska Thunderf*ck, from a reality competition television show that has, for ten seasons, turned the outrageous into Emmy award winning high camp.

Read the whole thing.

Jon McNaughton

I first became aware of the artist Jon McNaughton in 2011, when on a summer road trip we ate lunch in a Christian-patriotic themed diner in Towanda, Pennsylvania. On the wall was a reproduction of McNaughton’s painting One Nation Under God. Please click the link to view the image as I do not want to violate copyright by reprinting it here. At the center of the action is a figure of Jesus… holding a copy of the Constitution of the United States! Behind him, our ancestors look down on us in judgment. To Jesus’ right, and facing him, are good, honest citizens – and to Jesus’ left, facing away from him, are such folks as a lawyer counting a pile of bills, a “liberal news reporter,” and a college professor clutching a copy of The Origin of Species to his breast, all under the inspiration of Satan. More details, and explanations, may be found at the One Nation Under God interactive page.

As I wrote at the time: all that is missing is a crying Statue of Liberty from The Onion.

I see that McNaughton’s work The Forgotten Man (2010) has earned itself a Wikipedia entry. I guess I can reprint this one:

As you can see, McNaughton is not just patriotic, but partisan. All presidents prior to Barack Obama are gathered on a lawn in front of the White House. The cooler ones are beseeching Obama to remember the “forgotten man,” who sits slumped over on a park bench in despair. The less cool ones (in particular, those who added substantially to the national debt) are applauding Obama – who himself is trampling the Constitution underfoot! (And see One Nation Under Socialism, in which he’s actually burning it.) Apparently this painting was inspired by the passage of the Affordable Care Act – unconstitutionally and at great expense, according to our artist – although you’d think the young man might be happy for some health care, at least.

The Forgotten Man also has an interactive page. It was roundly mocked by Rachel Maddow and Stephen Colbert around the time it was created, the reason for its appearance on Wikipedia.

As you can probably imagine, McNaughton is a big fan of Donald Trump, and his latest painting depicts Trump, his wife, daughter, and various cabinet officials, dressed in hunting camouflage, riding a boat through a swamp, and repelling alligators, all arranged like the figures in Leutze’s Washington Crossing the Delaware. This one was noticed by the Never Trump Weekly Standard, which called it “angry kitsch” and “pure id art.” I think it’s an interesting image but Trump does not seem to be draining the swamp, as he promised. And how much longer before this painting is out of date, rendered obsolete by a resignation or firing? (This is the trouble with all topical art, especially art that is essentially a political cartoon.)

It would be easy enough to condemn the lack of subtlety and sophistication of McNaughton’s oeuvre, and to take issue with his political bias, but I celebrate the originality of his vision and courage in sticking to it, even if I disagree – somewhat like the art of Jack T. Chick (third item). I do find his efforts at conflating church and state to be most interesting (not just Jesus and the Constitution, but Moses and the Supreme Court, and congressmen jeering Jesus out of the House of Representatives – even though the motto “In God We Trust” is clearly engraved on the entablature). Are Mormons especially susceptible to the idea that America is a new Israel, with a sacred covenant with God?

Medieval Porn

From El Pais:

Deciphering the sex scenes in Spain’s medieval churches

Experts meet to discuss the meaning of highly explicit sculptures made 1,000 years ago

Why is that man showing off his enormous phallus, which seems to be pointing straight at us? What about that other bearded fellow who is apparently masturbating? And what is the meaning of that woman who is exhibiting her vulva? And is that couple really in the middle of intercourse?

These figures have all been there for nearly 1,000 years, sculpted into churches in northern Spain. They are in plain view on the façades, on the corbels that hold up the cornices, on the capitals crowning the columns, and even on the baptismal fonts.

But why did the stonemasons of the Middle Ages craft this cheeky iconography? What was the Roman Catholic Church trying to convey? A group of experts gathered inside the monastery of Santa María la Real in Aguilar de Campoo (Palencia) tried to answer that question last weekend at a seminar called “Art and sexuality in the Romanesque centuries.”

Unfortunately, there seem to be no clear answers….

You’ll have to click the link to see any images.

Saint Louie

We’ve been to and from St. Louis many times, and we always try to see something new en route or while we’re there (along with McKay’s in Nashville, of course – that is a staple!).

This time we stopped at the George Dickel Distillery in Tullahoma, Tennessee. I had visited the Old Bushmills Distillery in Northern Ireland and was keen to learn how American whiskey was different from Irish. (Answers: the composition of the mash, the state of the aging barrels, and in Tennessee, the Lincoln County Process.)

In St. Louis itself we got to see the refurbished and newly-reopened Museum at the Gateway Arch. It’s larger than the previous one, and deals with westward expansion in more detail and from a greater variety of perspectives. There’s also some good background on the arch itself, and no longer an animatronic Red Cloud.

The City Museum is like nothing you’ve ever seen. It occupies the former International Shoe Company building and is constantly colonizing new areas of it. The “museum” aspect consists largely of architectural detailing (I was pleased to discover the St. George pictured above), recovered nineteenth-century trash, a large insect collection, and other found objects; these are interspersed throughout an artificial cave system, a ten-story spiral slide, a ferris wheel on the roof, giant ball pits, skateboard ramps, a miniature train for people to ride, a space for circus performers, welded creations to climb on, and much, much more, all eccentrically decorated. As you can probably surmise, the museum appeals mostly to children, although it is fun for anyone to visit; what I like about it is that it’s dark and mysterious, even slightly sinister, an exciting contrast to much of the pabulum served up to kids these days.

Our event took place at the Contemporary Art Center, which we had never before seen. It’s what you’d expect: a brutalist building, with installation art like that depicted above (Jacob Stanley, TIME). It’s worth a visit, and it’s free.

At the St. Louis Science Center we saw a traveling Smithsonian exhibition entitled “Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission.” The showpiece is the actual Columbia capsule that took Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins to the Moon and back; this was accompanied by Aldrin’s helmet, a part of one of the Saturn V engines that Jeff Bezos fished out of the Atlantic, and other such objects. I especially liked all the Space Race newspaper headlines, videos of Kennedy speaking to Congress and giving his “We choose to go to the Moon” speech at Rice, and the midcentury-modern living room that you entered through (although I doubt that the television depicted above was all that common in middle America!).

On our way back, we stopped at something called the Arant Confederate Memorial Park, an SCV project situated beside I-24 just outside Paducah, Kentucky. This has appeared recently, and advertises itself, like a car dealership, with a massive flag. But the Battle Flag is not the only one on display: as you can see in the photo above, there are other ones, including all three national flags of the CSA, and the Bonnie Blue Flag.

The flag I was most curious about (as I had never seen it before): the flag of the Orphan Brigade, a Confederate brigade recruited in Kentucky (so-called as Kentucky was not really a member state of the Confederacy).

The flea market next door was festooned with American flags, and I can’t help but think this was some sort of a riposte to Arant Park.