I Am Ashurbanipal

A Guardian review of a major exhibit at the British Museum (hat tip: Bill Campbell):

‘Some of the most appalling images ever created’

Whether wrestling lions or skinning prisoners alive, the Assyrian king ran a murderously efficient empire. This is the art of war – and it’s terrifying

By Jonathan Jones

You have to hand it to the ancient Assyrians – they were honest. Their artistic propaganda relishes every detail of torture, massacre, battlefield executions and human displacement that made Assyria the dominant power of the Middle East from about 900 to 612BC. Assyrian art contains some of the most appalling images ever created. In one scene, tongues are being ripped from the mouths of prisoners. That will mute their screams when, in the next stage of their torture, they are flayed alive. In another relief a surrendering general is about to be beheaded and in a third prisoners have to grind their fathers’ bones before being executed in the streets of Nineveh.

These and many more episodes of calculated cruelty can be seen carved in gypsum in the British Museum’s blockbuster recreation of Assyria’s might. Assyrian art makes up in tough energy what it lacks in human tenderness. It is an art of war – all muscle, movement, impact. People and animals are portrayed as fierce cartoons of merciless force.

Yet behind the conquests these eye-blistering reliefs depict, lay an intricate system of bureaucracy and a passion for logistics. I Am Ashurbanipal is a portrait of the banality of empire. Just as Hannah Arendt argued that the Holocaust was perpetrated by characterless paper-pushers, not flamboyant sadists, so we find here that Assyrian atrocities – including the forced resettlement of thousands of Israelites – were not the product of random mayhem but diligent organisation.

Read the whole thing. One question is: did this art actually reflect reality, or was it just propaganda to scare people into submission? (I suppose it must have been real on some level; at some point your threats have to be backed up with actual violence.)

I’m glad we don’t have to live under such a regime.

HMML Exhibition

From Daniel Gullo, notice of an online exhibition from the Hill Monastic Manuscript Library: “Terra Incognita: Tracing Western Understanding of the Earth through Maps.”

In the 21st century, we have become accustomed to the ability to locate geographical information at the touch of a screen or a click of a mouse. Almost instantaneously we find physically accurate road maps, city maps and information about specific locations, and this can create a sense that all places are known through stored data. It is sometimes difficult to remember that such services have only become available in the last twenty years.

The maps in this exhibition may look foreign to you, and this sense of unfamiliarity is due largely to the changing understanding of the world over time and the attempt by early mapmakers to fill in missing data. This Terra incognita, or unknown land, was often filled with anomalous details such as California depicted as an island.

This collection of maps will give you a sense of how the conception of the world changed from the 13th to the early 19th century. Our understanding of the world continues to evolve, and the accurately detailed maps we know today may become the Terra incognita of the future.

Check it out.

The Habsburgs Come to Atlanta

Pleased to have been able to see the exhibit “Habsburg Splendor: Masterpieces from Vienna’s Imperial Collections” at Atlanta’s High Museum today. Some pictures:

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Embroidered Habsburg coat of arms.

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One knight…

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…faces another.

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Hans Daucher, Emperor Maximilian I on Horseback as St. George, a “Christian Soldier,” 1522.

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A fuller Habsburg coat of arms.

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A painting of a girl with Ambras Syndrome. For more on the phenomenon, see Merry Wiesner-Hanks, The Marvelous Hairy Girls: The Gonzales Sisters and their Worlds (2009).

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The hem of a robe of a member of the Order of the Golden Fleece. Note the fleece and flint-and-steel devices.

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A silver St. Sebastian shot with golden arrows.

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Corregio’s Jupiter and Io (c. 1530).

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On the way out: a building reflecting another building.

Atlanta in 50 Objects

From Arts Atl, courtesy my friend Gene Harmon. This looks like fun:

Preview: Atlanta History Center’s “Atlanta in 50 Objects” is as Eclectic as it is Evocative

January 11, 2016
By JEFF STAFFORD

If you could choose one object to represent a favorite memory or iconic experience from your life in Atlanta, what would you choose? A childhood memory of riding Priscilla the Pink Pig at Rich’s department store or visiting Willie B. at the zoo? Perhaps it would be witnessing Hank Aaron hit his 600th career home run. Or maybe it would be a defining moment in civil rights history like Dr. Martin Luther King’s acceptance speech for the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize.

Atlanta in 50 Objects, an exhibition at the Atlanta History Center which will debut January 16 and run through July 10, marks a distinct departure from the museum’s previous shows: It was curated by Atlanta itself.

Overseeing the project were Don Rooney, director of exhibitions, and guest curator Amy Wilson. Rooney’s organizational efforts with Wilson’s eye and creativity managed citizens’ suggestions which were solicited through social media, radio, newspaper ads and on-site suggestion boxes. The exhibit’s final selections are representative of the top 50 finalists. As expected, it is an eclectic but evocative reflection of a city in transition that reflects on its past (a figurine from the original diorama at the Cyclorama) while contemplating the present (Michonne’s sword from The Walking Dead television series).

Certain objects distinguished themselves as front-runners from the outset, such as Ramblin’ Wreck. Acquiring the automobile wasn’t quite as simple as some may assume — there’s more than one Ramblin’ Wreck. “The history of Ramblin’ Wreck at Georgia Tech,” Rooney notes, “dates back 60 years or so now. There are three official Ramblin’ Wrecks. One doesn’t have an engine in it and it goes to events. One is driven out onto the field at football games and the one we have has most recently been living at the Georgia Tech Hotel & Conference Center.”

More at the link.

Henry V’s Chapel

I’d love to see this:

Henry V ‘secret’ chapel opened for Agincourt anniversary

Westminster Abbey is opening Henry’s V’s chapel – rarely seen by the public – for guided tours to mark the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt.

The chapel was built within the shrine of Edward the Confessor.

Henry V ordered the chapel’s construction so prayers could be said for his soul after he died.

Tours of the chapel, located at the east end of the abbey, will be led by the Dean of Westminster on the eve of the battle’s anniversary on 24 October.

 

Exhibit at Hill Freeman Library

For the next month Hill Freeman Library will be featuring some of the art of Polish-American artist Wanda Maria Ast (1909-2007), grandmother of Reinhardt history professor Theresa Ast. Dr. Ast will be speaking about Wanda Maria on Thursday, October 29, at 3:30 and 5:30 p.m.

Some of the art on display:

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Tahitian Women. Oil on canvas, c. 1985.

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Young Thinker. Oil on canvas, c. 1980.

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Red Beard and Trench Coat. Oil on canvas, c. 1985.

 

Agincourt at the Tower of London

My friend Malcolm Mercer, Curator of Tower History at the Royal Armouries Museum at the Tower of London, is featured in a Guardian story about this year’s Agincourt exhibit:

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Tower of London remembers Agincourt – with a little help from the French

Battle of 1415 commemorated in exhibition that boasts battlefield model incorporating real mud and treasures from the Louvre and the Musée de l’Armée

Some of the mud that helped give England a victory still famous after 600 years, has been incorporated in a spectacular model depicting the Battle of Agincourt, centrepiece of an anniversary exhibition at the Tower of London.

Along with spectacular loans including treasures from French national collections such as the Louvre and Musée de l’Armée , curator Malcolm Mercer and his colleagues from the Royal Armouries brought back a plastic lunchbox filled with soil from the site.

“It has changed remarkably little,” Mercer said, “it was a ploughed field then and it is a ploughed field now.”

Shakespeare immortalised the 1415 victory in the “band of brothers” St Crispin’s Day speech, which he put into the mouth of Henry V. Whether or not the real Henry managed such oratory, the mud played a significant role in the battle. When Henry goaded the French (“I don’t want to sound jingoistic but he did play to their Gallic character,” said Mercer) to advance under an arrow cloud from the English archers, the wet mud churned up by the cavalry became a quagmire that the French, in heavy plate armour, sank into up to their knees.

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More at the link. And speaking of the Tower, the Independent reports that:

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Tower of London staff ‘used magic to repel the forces of the Devil’

The Tower of London has arguably been England’s premier fortress for almost a thousand years – but new evidence suggests that despite its impressive fortifications, its staff sometimes felt far from secure.

Research carried out by archaeologists in one of the fortresses’ major buildings has revealed that at least some of its inhabitants felt so insecure that they tried to use magic to give themselves an extra layer of protection.

Archaeologists, carrying out survey work in the residence of the Queen’s representative in the Tower, have found dozens of ‘ritual protection’ marks literally burnt into the timber uprights holding up the roof.

Historic Royal Palaces, which run the Tower of London, says that the discoveries are “hugely significant”. It is believed that the marks – 54 in total – were put on the timbers, mostly between the mid-16th and earlier 18th centuries, as a way of trying to magically protect the building from fire and lightning and to repel the forces of the Devil and the spells of witches.