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Vittore Carpaccio

By Denise MacColeman

Viewer? Voyeur? Visionary? One looks out on to something. Another has hidden secrets. Another is granted a revelation. A picture can provide many dramas. For example, Vermeer’s A Lady Writing a Letter with Her Maid shows a woman gazing out of a window. While her lady writes, engrossed, the maid is absent, wholly focused on the daylight outside. Her gaze removes us from the room. On the other hand, the subject for a voyeur is nearly always visible – imagine Susanna and the Elders by Tintoretto, without Susanna. The men are only there to look at the naked woman, but she, the object, is unaware of this. But then there is the painting by Caravaggio, The Conversion of St Paul. St Paul is struck to the ground. His arms are open. His eyes are closed. In darkness, Jesus is an implied vision, but nowhere to be seen. All we see is a horse. But some viewers in painting are more puzzling. What are they seeing? The painter Vittore Carpaccio’s own view shows St. Augustine in His Study. His subject is the great North African saint, the Bishop of Hippo, the author of City of God. And first of all our attention is of course upon this chamber. We are invited into his wonderful home. The sight is radiant and detailed. The extraordinary studio is packed with beauty and culture and wealth and religion. This Augustine is not a pauper scribbling in a cell, but a rich man, enjoying the things of the world. Look at his countless books, a library stocked full for his mind and his pleasures. Look at his symbols of learning, the astrolabe, the figurines in a row, the precious conch, the well-made furniture and the countless ornaments and knick-knacks. Look at his mitre, his crook and his Jesus statue – though these emblems of piety blend in, and don’t register to us so significantly in fact, as the rest of the room. And notice how each detail is picked out by a sure grasp of look, touch, colour. We can fully list the sensations. We can enjoy the separate hues of the room, the rose pinks, deep greens, browns, golds. All these things are acutely observed and given equal weight. The named and numbered objects are presented one thing after another; every exquisite possession and every little piece of observation is carefully itemised. The stage is richly patterned. The Saint owns this luxurious setting. So we see the inside of his glorious chamber. But then we can also wonder about the possible outside view. His studio is made marvellous for us. But St Augustine himself actually is looking out through the window – what is he? Viewer? Voyeur? Visionary? The story needs more detail here. St Augustine is writing a letter at his desk. Specifically, he is writing to his fellow scholar, St Jerome (famous for looking after his lion). But in the very moment and action of his communication, he suddenly pauses, looks up, turns round, and learns that Jerome himself is about to announce his death and ascent to Heaven. In other words, we see the room, but equally strongly we have the off-view, the unseen, implied sight. And this is the central drama of the scene. There is the vision, voice and light, coming from the beyond – and meeting it, Augustine’s visible raised face and his hand and pen. The man is still. A direct vertical perspective line descends perfectly through one coffer of the ceiling, and then down through the tip of his pen. And from elsewhere, both natural day and supernatural clarity fills the room. The light is softly, warmly entering through the slits of the windows. The shadows are sent falling across the chamber, touching its walls, the objects and the things upon the floor. This extraordinary chamber shows inner grandness and outer vision. And then there is the little loyal dog, a curly-topped Maltese. It is sitting there, behind its owner, motionless, waiting for some signal, a scrap or pat. It seems to be a moment of lightness, a comedy animal in that great space. But dog and man are clearly unified too. These creatures are both set at a slope. And in the diagonal light, the tip of the dog’s shadow, the top of the dog’s head, the top of the Saint’s head and the top of the window’s bay – all lie along the slant of the vision and this commands the whole picture. ABOUT THE ARTIST Vittore Carpaccio (1450-1525) is one of the great painters of the human scene. In his scenes every detail is clipped and clear and superbly arranged. His dramas occur in single rooms, among fantasy architecture and realistic street views, in formal processions and killing fields. His greatest works remain in Venice
Vittore Carpaccio–c1502-vittore-carpaccio-2081180.html

Keukenhof Gardens – The Neatherlands

By Denise MacColeman

An unprecedented wealth of spectacular floral displays planted in endless varieties, alternated with beautiful works of art. Keukenhof is unique, world famous and has been one of the most popular destinations in the Netherlands. The garden is home to 7 million tulips, which includes special hybrids that have been or are being developed. In fact, Keukenhof’s pride and joy is the truly awe-inspiring Russian black tulip Baba Yaga

Anatol Lieven: Reexamining Russian History

By Denise MacColeman

Anatol Lieven: Reexamining Russian History SOURCE: National Interest (9-15-10) [Anatol Lieven, a senior editor at The National Interest, is a professor in the War Studies Department of King’s College London and a senior fellow of the New America Foundation in Washington, DC.] One of the main themes of the Valdai Club this year was coming to terms with Russia’s twentieth-century history, or rather the ghastly period between the revolution of 1917 and the death of Stalin in 1953. This forms part of a push by Russian establishment liberals who support President Dmitri Medvedev to galvanize Russian reform and bring about a clear break with the Soviet past. Remembering the crimes of Stalinism was also a natural accompaniment to our trip by boat along parts of the White Sea Canal, constructed under Stalin in the 1930s by political prisoners at an appalling cost in human life and suffering, from cold, hunger and mass executions. This and so many other mass atrocities committed under Stalin and Lenin are only to a very limited degree officially remembered or commemorated in the Russia of today, although Russians formed a majority of their victims. This is a subject on which non-Russians have a limited moral right to speak except where their own fellow countrymen were among the mass of victims (as with Stalin’s mass murder of Polish prisoners at Katyn)—and even then, they must be very careful to acknowledge both that this was a crime of a Communist and not a Russian national state, and that innumerable Russians were also among the mass of victims. As to Russia, the lack of public commemoration or accounting goes beyond Stalinism, even if the immense scale of Stalinism’s crimes make this the most serious issue in modern Russian history by far. Thus the almost two million Russian dead of the First World War have also received no public memorial, even though nostalgia for the pre-revolutionary past is very common in contemporary Russian cinema, for example. Even for many strongly anti-Communist Russians—whose own families suffered under Stalin—the Communist past is often a very difficult subject, for two reasons above all, which were brought home to me during the second part of my stay, which included a visit to the city of Yaroslavl, where the Russian government has organized an international annual forum which they hope will become the Russian version of Davos. Glancing out of the train, my eye was caught by an incongruous white statue standing seemingly alone in a forest glade. Then I realized that the statue was of a soldier, and that behind it were row upon row of grey headstones—the graves of Soviet soldiers killed in the Second World War, presumably from a military hospital, since the German advance was stopped to the West of Yaroslavl in November 1941 before the Soviet counterattack the next month drove them back again. The regime which organized the resistance that drove them back and saved Russia from destruction was of course Communist and led by Stalin. Disentangling this glorious victory, which saved Russia and Europe from the Nazis, from the appalling domestic and international crimes of Stalinism, is, to put it mildly, not an easy one. The other reason for this has to do with the almost four decades of much milder Soviet rule that followed Stalin’s death, during which almost two generations grew up, married and had their own children, and which produced both the grey but limited oppression of Brezhnev’s rule and the reformist periods of Khrushchev and Gorbachev, and the eventual destruction of the system by the Communist rebel Yeltsin; and of course thereafter, the rise to power of a former Soviet intelligence officer, Vladimir Putin. In other words, this was not at all like the clear and sudden German break with Nazism caused by defeat and conquest in 1945. This history has produced a situation where in Yaroslavl the lovingly restored monasteries, cathedrals and palaces of the imperial era—often demolished or wrecked under Lenin and Stalin —sit on streets still called “Sovietskaya”, and “Andropova” (he was from Yaroslavl province)…

Volcanoes Killed Off Neanderthals

By Denise MacColeman

Modern humans escaped extinction due to their farther-flung populations? Main Content Female Neanderthal skull (file photo). Photograph by Kenneth Garrett, National Geographic Ker Than for National Geographic News Published September 22, 2010 Catastrophic volcanic eruptions in Europe may have culled Neanderthals to the point where they couldn’t bounce back, according to a controversial new theory. Modern humans, though, squeaked by, thanks to fallback populations in Africa and Asia, researchers say. About 40,000 years ago in what we now call Italy and the Caucasus Mountains, which straddle Europe and Asia, several volcanoes erupted in quick succession, according to a new study to be published in the October issue of the journal Current Anthropology. It’s likely the eruptions reduced or wiped out local bands of Neanderthals and indirectly affected farther-flung populations, the team concluded after analyzing pollen and ash from the affected area. (See volcano pictures.) The researchers examined sediments layer from around 40,000 years ago in Russia’s Mezmaiskaya Cave and found that the more volcanic ash a layer had, the less plant pollen it contained. “We tested all the layers for this volcanic ash signature. The most volcanic-ash-rich layer”—likely corresponding to the so-called Campanian Ignimbrite eruption, which occurred near Naples (map)—”had no [tree] pollen and very little pollen from other types of plants,” said study team member Naomi Cleghorn. “It’s just a sterile layer.” The loss of plants would have led to a decline in plant-eating mammals, which in turn would have affected the Neanderthals, who hunted large mammals for food. “This idea of an environmental cause for the Neanderthals’ demise has been out in the literature. What we’re trying to do is point out a specific mechanism,” said Cleghorn, an anthropologist at the University of Texas, Arlington. Other theories propose that modern humans played a vital role in the fall of the Neanderthals, either through competition, warfare, or interbreeding. (See “Neanderthals, Humans Interbred—First Solid DNA Evidence.”) If the volcanoes theory is correct, the Neanderthals’ end was much more tragic: dying slowly in a cold and desolate landscape bereft of food sources. “It’s hard to say what it would have been like to be the last few groups out there, seeing other groups less and less over the years,” Cleghorn said. (See pictures of a reconstructed Neanderthal and take a Neanderthals quiz.) Uniquely Powerful Eruption The Neanderthals were a hardy species that lived through multiple ice ages and would have been familiar with volcanoes and other natural calamities. But the eruptions 40,000 years ago were unlike anything Neanderthals had faced before, Cleghorn and company say. For one thing, all the volcanoes apparently erupted around the same time. And one of those blasts, the Campanian Ignimbrite, is thought to have been the most powerful eruption in Europe in the last 200,000 years. “It’s much easier to adapt to something that’s happening over a couple of generations,” Cleghorn said. “You can move around, you can find other places to live, and your population can rebound. “This is not that kind of event,” she said. “This is unique.” (Related: “Climate Change Killed Neanderthals, Study Says.”) Neanderthals Had Short Bench? There may also have been small bands of Homo sapiens living in Europe at the time, Cleghorn said. They too would have been affected by the eruptions. But modern humans likely avoided extinction because they had larger populations in Africa and Asia, she said, while most Neanderthals were in Europe around this time. (Related: “Neanderthals Ranged Much Farther East Than Thought.”) “With their small population groups, Neanderthals did not really have a great source population,” Cleghorn said. “They didn’t really have the numbers and the density” to rebuild their populations after the eruptions. “Not Convinced” by Volcanoes Theory The researchers acknowledge that there are gaps in the volcanoes theory. For instance, the time line needs to be better defined—did the volcanic eruptions occur in a period of months, years, or decades? “At this point, it’s impossible to pin down a reliable date” for the eruptions, Cleghorn said. “We can’t say, This eruption happened 50 years before the next eruption. We just don’t have that kind of resolution.” It’s also unknown exactly how long it took the Neanderthals to die out—or how long after the eruptions modern humans began settling Europe in force, she said. Anthropologist John Hoffecker, though, suggests that modern humans had already begun crowding out Neanderthals in Europe long before the eruptions in question. Judging from discoveries of modern-human artifacts in former Neanderthal strongholds, Hoffecker said, “Neanderthals were clearly in trouble well before 40,000 years ago, because modern humans were occupying certain places, such as Italy, where Neanderthals had been present. So something clearly had gone wrong there.” Perhaps, he added, the volcanic eruptions just dealt the final blow. “I’m not entirely convinced that’s the case either,” said Hoffecker, of the University of Colorado. “But at least that’s a plausible scenario that’s consistent with the chronology.” Study co-author Cleghorn counters that the modern human populations living in Europe 40,000 years ago were small and isolated, and only after the Neanderthals were gone did Homo sapiens populations explode. “If modern humans were making any forays into European Neanderthal territory prior to this, they were doing it only on the very margins,” Cleghorn said. “What was keeping them from moving very quickly into the heart of Europe? We think Neanderthals were still holding their own and might have held out for much longer, if it hadn’t been for the devastating impact of these eruptions.”

The 10 best devils Peter Stanford, journalist and author of The Devil: A Biography, picks his favourite artistic interpretations

By Denise MacColeman

Paradise Lost It was the 17th-century Puritan poet John Milton who produced the first psychologically compelling portrait of the devil, no longer the sly predator but (initially, at least) an edgy seductive hero. With his fine words, theatricality and swagger, the only physical sign of the evil within is the lightning scar on his face. In a device that is now all too familiar, the devil is first built up by Milton – “he above the rest/In shape and gesture proudly eminent/Stood like a tow’r” – and then debunked as a washed-up idealist turned cynical and out for revenge: “dismay mixt with obdurate pride and steadfast hate”

Historic Papal Visit To U.K.

By Denise MacColeman

Alessandra Tarantino/AP Pope Benedict XVI (right) prays during his weekly general audience Wednesday at the Vatican. Benedict takes his campaign to revive Christianity in an increasingly secular Europe to Britain on Thursday. He faces a daunting task in a nation largely at odds with his policies

Lascaux Cave Paintings (PHOTOS): Rare And Never-Seen Photos From

By Denise MacColeman

On a warm afternoon in 1940 in southwestern France, two rabbit-hunting schoolboys made a startling, historic discovery. As their dog chased a hare down a hole beside a downed tree, the boys quickly followed suit. Once underground, they stepped into the “Versailles of Prehistory,” a series of caves known today as Lascaux, where stunning and remarkably-preserved paintings, some believed to be up to 18,000 years old, line the walls. The following photographs are a small sample of a series shot by LIFE’s Ralph Morse. In 1947, Morse journeyed to Lascaux and became the first photographer to document the astonishingly detailed, colorful Cro-Magnon paintings on film. Some of these photos have not been seen until now. Be sure to check out the amazing full gallery from Photos and captions courtesy of The reds and yellows were created from ground, colored earth, while charred bone and soot were used for dark shading, and green was made from manganese oxide. “Most people don’t realize how huge some of the paintings are,” recalls Morse. “There are pictures of animals there that are ten, fifteen feet long, and more.” Morse’s wife Ruth sits at a photo-captioning desk while locals gather to see the cave brightly lit for the first time.

Oversight Of Private Security Contractors Still A Concern Three Years After Massacre In Iraq

By Denise MacColeman

Three years ago this week, heavily armed Blackwater security contractors working for the State Department went on an unprovoked shooting spree in a Baghdad square, killing 17 unarmed Iraqi civilians and wounding 24. The five hired guns were acting with impunity — literally. A 2004 U.S. order, issued a day before Iraq was ostensibly given its sovereignty back, declared that foreign contractors within Iraq would not be subject to any Iraqi laws. Earlier this year, a U.S. judge threw out a criminal case against the guards on a technicality. The Nisour Square massacre, as it came to be known, was the culmination of a series of incidents of civilian abuse by private security contractors in Iraq exposing what Melina Milazzo, a lawyer with Human Rights First, calls “a gap in both law and culture.” In the intervening years, Iraq kicked Blackwater out of the country and passed a law that ends immunity for at least some private security contractors. At the same time, changes in U.S. law and policy have led to greater agency oversight and coordination over contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. But according to a new report from Human Rights First, many problems remain unaddressed. Meanwhile, the Obama administration is increasing its dependency on security firms. To make up for the withdrawal of American troops in Iraq, the Department of State plans to more than double the number of private security contractors it employs there, from 2,700 to 7,000. And more contractors of all types are headed to Afghanistan to support the troop surge there. But according to Milazzo, who authored the new report, there is still some ambiguity regarding whether the U.S. has jurisdiction over all private security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, and “it would be reckless not to clarify that criminal jurisdiction before deployment.”

Bode’s law lives!

By Denise MacColeman

SOMEWHERE, the spirit of Johann Elert Bode is smiling. Bode was a German astronomer who popularised a mathematical rule, which came to be known as Bode’s law, in a book published in 1772. According to Bode’s law, there is a hidden pattern in the spacing of the orbits of the planets. The orbits of Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn fit neatly into this pattern; Uranus, discovered in 1781, also obeyed the law. But there was a problem: Bode’s law predicted that there ought to be a planet between Mars and Jupiter. It was only in 1801 with the discovery of Ceres, the largest of the asteroids, that this gap was neatly plugged. In the two centuries since, however, Bode’s law has fallen from grace. Ceres turned out to be just one of many asteroids orbiting between Mars and Jupiter, rather than a proper planet. Neptune, discovered in 1846, had a much smaller orbit than the law predicted; and Pluto, which is now classed as a “dwarf planet”, also failed to fit in with Bode’s neat pattern when it was found in 1930. Bode’s law, it seemed, was just a coincidence, an example of the human mind’s tendency to find a meaningful pattern where none exists. But the discovery of a new planetary system by a group of astronomers at the European Southern Observatory, led by Christophe Lovis of the University of Geneva, has reawakened interest in the old rule. Indeed, their paper announcing the discovery refers to Bode’s law by name (it actually calls it the Titius-Bode law, namechecking the Prussian astronomer whose idea Bode stole). The system consists of at least five, and possibly as many as seven, planets orbiting a sun-like star called HD 10180, located 127 light-years away in the constellation of Hydrus. As the planets orbit the star, they pull it to and fro, causing telltale wobbles in the star’s light that can be detected from Earth. Careful analysis of these wobbles reveals the masses of the planets and the sizes and spacing of their orbits. And it turns out that the spacing of the orbits of the planets around HD 10180 obey a version of Bode’s law. The planets look very different from those in the Earth’s solar system: five of them are about the size of Neptune, and are closer to their star than Mars is to the sun. The other two planets, for which the evidence is not quite so strong, are a Saturn-like planet orbiting further out, and a planet only slightly heavier than Earth orbiting very close to the star, so that it completes an orbit every 1.18 Earth days. But never mind that. The fit with Bode’s law is striking, and the astronomers show in their paper that a few other known multiplanetary systems around other stars exhibit a similar fit too, though with fewer planets (see chart). There is, in other words, starting to be enough evidence to suggest that Bode’s law might not be a complete fluke. But why might planetary orbits obey such neat patterns, at least some of the time? The researchers speculate that it could be a side-effect of the mechanism by which planetary systems form. Dr Lovis and his colleagues suggest that when many planetary systems first emerge from a disk of dust and gas around a young star, they are “saturated” with planets. Most of the planets are then weeded out by collisions and ejections, caused by gravitational interaction between adjacent planetary bodies. Systems with regular planetary spacings then turn out to have the greatest long-term stability, so that they can be observed today. The researchers observe that “the orbital distances of successive planets with similar masses will tend to obey an approximate exponential law, much like the century-long debated and polemical Titius-Bode law in the Solar System.” There are several caveats, of course. “We emphasize that we do not consider these Titius-Bode-like ‘laws’ as having any other meaning than a possible signature of formation processes,” the astronomers insist. Such laws may only apply to relatively small planets relatively close to their suns. Systems dominated by very large “super-Jupiter” planets are probably far more chaotic, with gravitational tussles causing planets to end up in all sorts of strange orbits. And Dr Lovis and his colleagues note that “the physics of planet formation is so diverse and complex that we do not expect any universal rule on planet ordering to exist.” Still, the idea that there might be something to Bode’s law after all has been advanced by a few researchers in recent years as a serious theoretical possibility. As planet-finding technology improves, more planets are found around other stars and the number of known multiplanetary systems continues to increase, this modern-day revival of Bode’s law can now be put to the test.


Posted October 20, 2010 by dmacc502 in Uncategorized

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