If There Is Much In The Window There Should Be More In The Room

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Vincent van Gogh’s ‘final gasp’

Vincent van Gogh’s ‘final gasp’

National Gallery to display Vincent van Gogh’s ‘final gasp,’ not seen publicly since 1966.

Christmas came early at the National Gallery of Art, which has just received Vincent van Gogh’s “Green Wheat Fields, Auvers” from the estate of museum benefactor Paul Mellon. 


The painting went on display Friday, December 21, 2013 in the Gallery’s West Building and hang between two other works by van Gogh: the still life “Roses” and the portrait “La Mousmé.” 
“La Mousmé"

“Green Wheat Fields, Auvers,” which depicts the French countryside, was painted months before the artist’s death in 1890. It is the ninth van Gogh painting to enter the National Gallery’s collection.

The work, "Green Wheat Fields, Auvers," is particularly exciting for art historians because the famous Dutch painter completed it just weeks before he died in France in 1890 at age 37. 

Paul Mellon
The oil painting had been in the private collection of late millionaire Paul Mellon, whose father, Andrew Mellon, founded the gallery in 1937.

It had hanged, unframed, in Paul and his wife Rachel's home in Virginia until Rachel, 103, donated it to the museum earlier this year after its last public showing in 1966. It now lives in a beautiful gold frame but with just a little sign and no protective glass, next to a self-portrait of the artist.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Silence that Follows the Music

The musical world had lost one of the greatest and most acclaimed conductors of our age: Claudio Abbado, the best lyrical interpreter of Mahler. This particular performance stands as everlasting testament to his great art, extraordinary musicianship and the unique qualities of his work.

As soon as Abbado lowered his baton his interpretation of the Second Symphony by Mahler became a legend.

An invisible thread runs between Claudio Abbado and the Second Symphony, "Resurrection" by Mahler. It is with this work that he made his debut with the London Symphony Orchestra and the Philharmonic Orchestra of Vienna in Salzburg at the age of thirty-two and it is this symphony he decides to conduct in August 2003 in Lucerne, with the new orchestra that he helped revive, the Lucerne Festival Orchestra. 

An Italian revived it, an Italian had founded it: Arturo Toscanini, who had founded the Lucerne Festival in 1938 to compete with Salzburg, had given this event an orchestra that was to play under the direction of the greatest conductors. After falling by the wayside in the nineties, the new Lucerne Festival Orchestra was reborn in August 2003 like the phoenix reborn from its ashes under the magic baton of Claudio Abbado. 

In the superb concert hall, designed by the architect Jean Nouvel, the stars of the most prestigious formations as well as the leading soloists perform. Among many others one may recognise: Emmanuel Pahud, Sabine Meyer, Renaud and Gautier Capuçon, Natalia Gutman, the Hagen Quartet and Marie-Pierre Langlamet. The simple fact of having succeeded in assembling all these stars is a miracle in itself, the aim is now to get them to play together… And that takes the talent, experience and magnetism of a Claudio Abbado to succeed. 

There was no reason for concern: as soon as the applause died down, the interpretation of the Second Symphony they performed as a single man, went down in legend. Fortunately, cameras and microphones were there to ressuscitate the "Ressurection". medici.tv

Claudio Abbado doesn't talk. No doubt because he expresses himself with music so intensely that words must seem inadequate to him. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

All the Khan’s Horses

All the Khan’s Horses
With fresh mounts in reserve, Genghis Khan’s
warriors could outlast any enemy.

In August 1227, a somber funeral procession—escorted the body of perhaps the most renowned conqueror in world history-made its way toward the Burkhan Khaldun (Buddha Cliff) in northeastern Mongolia.

mongol empire

Commanding a military force that never amounted to more than 200,000 troops, this Mongol ruler had united the disparate, nomadic Mongol tribes and initiated the conquest of territory stretching from Korea to Hungary and from Russia to modern Vietnam and Syria. 


His title was Genghis Khan, “Khan of All Between the Oceans.” 


Genghis Khan and his descendants could not have conquered and ruled the largest land empire in world history without their diminutive but extremely hardy steeds.

mongolian ponies1_Deborah Kalin

In some respects, these Mongolian ponies resembled what is now known as Przewalski’s horse. Mongols held these horses in highest regard and accorded them great spiritual significance.  

mongolian ponies2_Deborah Kalin
Before setting forth on military expeditions, for example, commanders would scatter mare’s milk on the earth to insure victory. In shamanic rituals, horses were sacrificed to provide “transport” to heaven.
Mongol Cavalrymen

The Mongols prized their horses primarily for the advantages they offered in warfare. 
In combat, the horses were fast and flexible, and Genghis Khan was the first leader to capitalize fully on these strengths. 
After hit-and-run raids, for example, his horsemen could race back and quickly disappear into their native steppes. 
Mounted Archers

Enemy armies from the sedentary agricultural societies to the south frequently had to abandon their pursuit because they were not accustomed to long rides on horseback and thus could not move as quickly. Nor could these farmer-soldiers leave their fields for extended periods to chase after the Mongols.

Mongol_soldiers_mongol bow__by_Rashid_al-Din_1305
The Mongols had developed a composite bow made out of sinew and horn and were skilled at shooting it while riding, which gave them the upper hand against ordinary foot soldiers.

composite bow

With a range of more than 350 yards, the bow was superior to the contemporaneous English longbow, whose range was only 250 yards.

Mongol light horse archer.Equipped with a deadly composite bow and armour piercing arrows

Mongol light horse archer
A wood-and-leather saddle, which was rubbed with sheep’s fat to prevent cracking and shrinkage, allowed the horses to bear the weight of their riders for long periods and also permitted the riders to retain a firm seat. 

Mongol Heavy cavalry.Well equipped with steel lamellar armour his main weapons were the lance[not shown],sabre and mace
Their saddlebags contained cooking pots, dried meat, yogurt, water bottles, and other essentials for lengthy expeditions. Finally, a sturdy stirrup enabled horsemen to be steadier and thus more accurate in shooting when mounted.

Ilkhanid Horse Archer

A Chinese chronicler recognized the horse’s value to the Mongols, observing that “by nature they [the Mongols] are good at riding and shooting. 

Therefore they took possession of the world through this advantage of bow and horse.”

Mongol Archer

Genghis Khan understood the importance of horses and insisted that his troops be solicitous of their steeds. A cavalryman normally had three or four, so that each was, at one time or another, given a respite from bearing the weight of the rider during a lengthy journey. 
A mongol Elite cavalryman or commander.Magnificently equipped in steel lamellar armour.
Before combat, leather coverings were placed on the head of each horse and its body was covered with armor. After combat, Mongol horses could traverse the most rugged terrain and survive on little fodder.

il-Khan Hulagu rests
According to Marco Polo, the horse also provided sustenance to its rider on long trips during which all the food had been consumed. 
On such occasions, the rider would cut the horse’s veins and drink the blood that spurted forth. 
Marco Polo reported, perhaps with some exaggeration, that a horseman could, by nourishing himself on his horse’s blood, “ride quite ten days’ marches without eating any cooked food and without lighting a fire.” 
And because its milk offered additional sustenance during extended military campaigns, a cavalryman usually preferred a mare as a mount. The milk was often fermented to produce kumiss, or araq, a potent alcoholic drink liberally consumed by the Mongols. In short, as one commander stated, “If the horse dies, I die; if it lives, I survive.”

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Chagall's Mysticism of Blue Light

Chagall’s Mysticism of Blue Light

"This is my modest gift to the Jewish people who have always dreamt of biblical love, friendship and of peace among all peoples. This is my gift to that people which lived here thousands of years ago among the other Semitic people." Marc Chagall, February 6, 1962

“When Matisse dies,” Pablo Picasso remarked in the 1950s, “Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what color really is."

“The colors address our vital consciousness directly, because they tell of optimism, hope and delight in life”, says Monsignor Klaus Mayer, who imparts Chagall’s work in mediations and books. 

Marc Chagall (IPA: ʃʌ-ɡɑːl); [shuh-GAHL] (7 July 1887 28 March 1985), was a Russian-Jewish artist, born in Belarus (then Russian Empire) and naturalized French in 1937, associated with several key art movements and was one of the most successful artists of the twentieth century.

Chagall was considered to be “the last survivor of the first generation of European modernists.” For decades he “had also been respected as the world’s preeminent Jewish artist.” 

He also accepted many non-Jewish commissions, including a stained glass for the cathedrals of Reims and Metz, a Dag Hammarskjöld memorial at the United Nations, and the great ceiling mural in the Paris Opéra.

200,000 visitors a year visit St. Stephen’s church in Mainz, Germany. Tourists from the whole world pilgrim up St. Stephen’s Mount, to the glowing blue stained glass windows by the artist Marc Chagall. St. Stephen’s is the only German church for which the Jewish artist Marc Chagall (1887 - 1985) created windows.

He was known to have two basic reputations, writes Lewis - as a pioneer of modernism, and as a major Jewish artist. He experienced modernism’s golden age in Paris, where “he synthesized the art forms of Cubism, Symbolism, and Fauvism, and the influence of Fauvism gave rise to Surrealism.” 

Yet throughout these phases of his style "he remained most emphatically a Jewish artist, whose work was one long dreamy reverie of life in his native village of Vitebsk.

The light that emanates from the twelve stained glass windows bathes the Abbell Synagogue at the Hadassah University Medical Center in a special glow. 

The sun filters through the brilliant colors of the stained glass capturing their radiance. Even in the misty haze of a cloudy day, Chagall's genius transforms time and space.

The synagogue's Jerusalem stone floor and walls absorb this beauty and reflect it. Standing within the simple square that forms the pedestal for the windows, gazing up at the vivid imagery, the Jewish symbols, the floating figures of animals, fish and flowers, even the most casual viewer is overwhelmed by their power and presence.

Every pane is a microcosm of Chagall's world, real and imaginary; of his love for his people, his deep sense of identification with Jewish history, his early life in the Russian shtetl.

"All the time I was working, I felt my mother and father looking over my shoulder; and behind them were Jews, millions of other vanished Jews -- of yesterday and a thousand years ago," Chagall said.

The Bible was his primary inspiration, particularly Jacob's blessings on his twelve sons and Moses' blessings on the twelve tribes. Each window is dominated by a specific color and contains a quotation from the individual blessings.

Chagall and his assistant, Charles Marq, worked on the project for two years, during which time Marq developed a special process for applying color to the glass. This allowed Chagall to use as many as three colors on a single pane, rather than being confined to the traditional technique of separating each colored pane by a lead strip. 

The synagogue was dedicated in the presence of the artist on February 6, 1962 as part of Hadassah's Golden Anniversary Celebration.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

An Unsuspecting Winner

An Unsuspecting Winner  

The Polish pianist Rafal Blechacz suspected nothing when, while preparing for three concerts in Switzerland in late 2012, he was bombarded with questions by the artistic director of the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra. He had no clue that a recital he gave that year in Schenectady, N.Y., was closely scrutinized and discussed and debated by a select few listeners.

And he thought nothing of it when the man from the Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival in Kalamazoo, Mich., sought a meeting in Berlin, assuming that they would simply be discussing his next appearance at the festival.

Instead, it was in that meeting in Berlin last summer that a startled Mr. Blechacz learned that he had been selected to receive one of the great windfalls of the music world: the $300,000 Gilmore Artist Award, which is given every four years to an unsuspecting pianist deemed worthy of a great career by a panel of anonymous judges who conduct their worldwide talent search in secret. The 28-year-old Blechacz, who has performed widely throughout Europe and Japan, is the seventh recipient of the Gilmore prize.

“I was lucky,” Mr. Blechacz said of that Berlin meeting, “because I was sitting.”

The award, which will be announced officially on Wednesday, is often thought of as the music world’s version of the MacArthur Foundation’s “genius” grants: a prestigious prize that cannot be applied for or sought. The long confidential selection process aims to judge pianists over a sustained period of time, in marked contrast to hundreds of other sink-or-swim piano competitions that can resemble beauty pageants or reality shows. 

With the award, Mr. Blechacz, 28, will join an elite and varied group of recipients. He will receive $50,000 in cash, and $250,000 will be made available to help him foster his career. (Past recipients have used that money to buy better pianos, commission new music, subsidize recordings and take sabbaticals to learn new repertoire.)

Funded through the $100 million estate of the late department store magnate, Irving S. Gilmore of Kalamazoo, Mich., the Gilmore Competition operates silently, like the McArthur Foundation or the Pulitzer Prize committee. Past Gilmore recipients include Kirill Gerstein (2010), Ingrid Fliter (2006), Piotr Anderszewski (2002) and Leif Ove Andsnes (1998).

The Polish-trained Mr. Blechacz (pronounced BLEH-hatch) rose to fame in 2005 when, at 20, he became the first Polish pianist in three decades to win in all five categories in the International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw. Since then, he has had an increasingly active touring career, playing concerts around the world. His recordings for Deutsche Grammophon encompass much Chopin, along with Haydn and Beethoven sonatas and a CD pairing of Debussy’s Pour le piano with Szymanowski’s Preludium. Blechacz is pursuing a Doctorate in philosophy with emphasis in aesthetics and the philosophy of music at Uniwersytet Mikolaja Kopernika in Torun, Poland. He is writing a book about musical interpretation.

In a wide-ranging interview this week at Steinway Hall on West 57th Street in Manhattan, Mr. Blechacz — a slender young man with a mop of brown hair who very much looks the part of the Chopin interpreter — spoke about his musical upbringing and influences, his goals, and how he might use the award money for a better piano or to subsidize a recording with a major orchestra. “I have time to think about this,” he said.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Stephen Hawking’s Theory of Everything, Animated in 150 Seconds

No time to read Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time?  

In just two and a half minutes, Alok Jha explains why black holes are doomed to shrink into nothingness then explode with the energy of a million nuclear bombs, and rewinds to the big bang and the origin of the universe.

Legendary theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking is among the greatest scientific minds in human history. In this charming animation for The Guardian’s MadeSimple  series, UK-based animation studio Scriberia — who also made the wonderful trailer for Oliver Burkeman’s Antidote — condenses Hawking’s expansive, mind-bending theories down to 150 seconds. Reminiscent in spirit of the RSA animations, though much better-executed creatively, the short video is the visual equivalent of the art of the soundbite.



Maria Popova/brainpickings.org