Coptic Martyrs

From the Facebook page of Our Lady of the Mountains of Jasper, Georgia, an interesting icon:

An article on The Stream indicates that this icon was made in 2015 by Serbian artist Nikola Sarić. It references the kidnapping and beheading of 21 Christians in Libya by agents of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which had taken place earlier in 2015. Twenty of the men were Egyptian Copts, and one was Ghanaian, whose darker face is shown on the top right; they were in Libya as construction workers in the city of Sirte when ISIL nabbed them.

The executions took place on the Mediterranean beach on February 15, 2015, with ISIL agents dressed in black and their victims in orange jumpsuits, referencing the outfits worn by al-Qaeda prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

Painting, Tomb of Rameses VI. Pinterest.

I like how there is something Egyptian about this icon, both from the way the figures stand and how they are arranged, and yet it is not so stylized that that horrific event isn’t instantly recognizable. I also like how icon-making is a living tradition and for actual martyrs for the faith, not just revered but non-religious figures like Harvey Milk, Steve Biko, or Mother Jones.

Bauhaus

Bauhaus Building, Dessau, Germany. Wikipedia.

This year marks the one hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Bauhaus, an influential school of architecture and design that was located first in Weimar, then in Dessau, and finally in Bernau, a suburb of Berlin. It became a byword for the experimentation (or decadence) of the Weimar Republic, and was accordingly shuttered by the Nazis when they came to power in 1933 – which meant that their faculty, some of them quite famous, spread throughout the world, preaching the Bauhaus message of form following function.

Sotheby’s Magazine has a short article on museums hosting centennial exhibitions this year, including at Munich, Rotterdam, Weimar, and Dessau. Click the link to see some interesting images.

I wrote a paper on the Bauhaus in college that I’m proud of, and the only time I was in Berlin I made sure to see the Bauhaus Archive (currently closed for renovation). I certainly enjoyed walking around the White City, a neighborhood of some 4000 Bauhaus and Bauhaus-inspired buildings in Tel Aviv, built by Jewish architects who migrated to British Palestine after the rise of the Nazis.

Cycloramas

Interesting article on Jstor daily (hat tip: Funk Heritage Center):

Cycloramas: The Virtual Reality of the 19th Century

Immersive displays brought 19th century spectators to far-off places and distant battles. The way they portrayed history, however, was often inaccurate.

In the fall of 1886, New Yorkers were transported to the Battle of Gettysburg. That is to say, they flocked to a circular structure in downtown Brooklyn. The inside walls of the curious room were covered with a 360-degree painting, on which soldiers charged and cannons fired. As Scientific American described at the time, the floorboards were covered with sod and “real trees, evergreens and others, with shrubbery, portions of fences, and the like are set about, and tufts of grass, wheat, and similar things, lend their aid to fill up the scene.” Skylights illuminated the canvas and props while leaving the spectator area dark, and mannequins were posed alongside the painted scene. So convincing were these dummies that the police got called one evening to stop a robbery and apprehended two fake soldiers.

This immersive installation, known as a cyclorama, was one of several that popped up around the United States and Europe in the nineteenth century. Civil War scenes were popular, but so were Niagara Falls, the Biblical Crucifixion, the Chicago Fire of 1871, and the Battle of Waterloo. They were the virtual reality of their time, combining art, lighting, architecture, and installations to convey viewers to exotic locales or the recent and distant past.

Irish painter Robert Barker is often credited with introducing what he described as a “picture without boundaries” in 1787, debuting his invention with a cylindrical panorama of Edinburgh. Cycloramas arrived in the United States by the end of the 1800s, and took off in the mid-nineteenth century. Because they required a specially-designed circular building, they tended to be long-term exhibitions. “Typically, a cyclorama stayed at one place until the local public lost interest in it and ticket sales dropped,” explains scholar Charles G. Markantes in Military Images. “Once the novelty wore off, some owners went bankrupt and were forced to abandon their paintings. Cycloramas remained viable attractions only where the location itself continued to attract visitors, such as the battlefield of Gettysburg or Atlanta.”

We visited Atlanta’s Cyclorama in 2015, and I’m pleased to say that it will be reopening next month at the Atlanta History Center.

St. George at the UN

Chris Berard.

My friend Chris Berard sends me a photo he took on a recent trip to New York City. This St. George statue is relatively famous: Zurab Tsereteli’s Good Defeats Evil (1990), located north of the entrance to the United Nations’ General Assembly Building. Given the Georgian nationality of the artist and the date of the installation, it would be tempting to see this statue as symbolic of the defeat of Communism, but the “evil” represented here is the Cold War itself – the dragon’s body is made up of pieces of US Pershing and Soviet SS-20 nuclear missiles.

It occurs to me that I’ve seen this image before, at the George W. Bush Library and Museum in Dallas. There, it is rendered on a copper shield with cloisonné enamel artwork, by the same artist. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze presented this piece to Pres. Bush, presumably before 2003, when Shevardnadze was ousted from office as a result of the Rose Revolution.

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.”