Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

Although the instructional value of history provides a crucial underpinning of the American Revolution, it is not the only value that history provides that helped make the republic that is the United States and that can help those who still seek to keep it. “Without the classical example,” states historian Hannah Arendt “…none of the men of the revolutions on either side of the Atlantic would have possessed the courage for what then turned out to be unprecedented action.” In other words, history can empower us emotionally as well as intellectually by presenting actual, successful heroes who moved the world.

Literature and art, for their part, serve as inspiration when they present human beings as they could and ought to be: Michelangelo’s courageous David facing off against Goliath, the swashbuckling poet Cyrano de Bergerac questing for love, or Terrence Rattigan’s Arthur Winslow seeking justice for his son in the Winslow Boy. Although, due to the failing of modern historians, history is usually viewed as dry and devoid of such emotional fuel, one of the crucial functions of history is in fact to inspire, and to do so in a way that only it can.

The unique source of inspiration that a proper study of history can provide is the sight of man as he actually has been and can be again.

The incomparable heroism of King Leonidas of Sparta, defending Greece to the death at Thermopylae, the unbending integrity of Galileo in his pursuing of scientific truth in defiance of the nearly monolithic power of the Catholic Church, the genius and poise of Washington crossing the Delaware to victory against the Hessians at Trenton; these examples are not invention. They are the truth of human beings at their greatest. It’s no wonder that a young history student of mine from Norway once exclaimed, history “…keeps me more thrilled than any movie.”

HISTORY THROUGH ARTHistory can inspire in many ways.  In its basic narrative form, it can mimic literature.  But its power to inspire can also arise in other forms, including film and painting.  One of the unique features of the Powell History pedagogical approach is the use of visual art to both facilitate students’ grasp of history and to help students draw inspiration from the past.

The benefits of this approach are manifold.  From an instructional perspective, visual art concretizes the abstract narrative of the past, providing us with a past that can be seen.  By means of the compositional or thematic integration of the art itself, it also helps to integrate the meaning of the past.  (For instance, in the painting below, the symbolic inscriptions in the bottom left tie the events of Napoleonic history to an ancient past, evoking crucial comparisons and themes.)  Looking at great art, as in the images below, one need hardly elaborate on its power to inspire as well.  Challenges sometimes arise about the objectivity of the inspirational themes involved, but when instruction and inspiration are connected to genuine values, the final product is invaluable.  This will be a theme that we aggressively pursue in the new PHR!

Great historical art can inspire and instruct at the same time. Look for a complete analysis of David's Bonaparte Crossing the Alps in an upcoming issue of PHR.

The unique ability of visual art to instruct and inspire will be regularly featured in upcoming issues of PHR, including Jacques-Louis David's amazing Death of Socrates.

The ultimate example of thematic historical visualization: Emmanuel Leutze's Washington Crossing the Delaware (closeup by Lee Sandstead). More on this painting coming up in PHR!

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Not a day goes by without some depressing reminder that our freedom is slipping away, whether it’s new taxes, new restrictions on blogging, new intrusive measures to protect against terrorism, or the ever-growing threat of the socialized rationing of medical services.  Each day we have to renew our commitment to fight the decline of American civilization. But where can we get the fuel to do that? Philosophy gives us the intellectual ammunition, but where do we find the will to use it?

The most important inspiration in life comes from art. It is in art that we find concretized the abstract values that we cherish–the romantic passion and grandeur of Cyrano de Bergerac, the fatherly love and courage of Arthur Winslow, the independence and rationality of John Galt. It is in art that we find nourishment for the soul.

History can also transport us to a world apart. History shows us the real-life triumphs of the Athenians over the Persians, the real-life political gains of the Roman plebeains against the patricians, the true story of the birth of philosophy, art, science and history in Greece, the true story of the rise of modern technology and industry, and the true story of America’s heroic founding.

What is more, when these two great realms of inspiration come together, a powerful synergy can occur.  This is evident, for instance, to anyone who has seen Emmanuel Leutze’s famous Washington Crossing the Delaware, Daniel Chester French’s statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial, or Jean-Pierre Cortot’s The Soldier of Marathon Announcing the Victory.

What never ceases to amaze me, however, is just how much inspiration of this sort there is out there to be had. Though it was not my intention to write this piece as an accompaniment to Thanksgiving, it is entirely appropriate that I should be writing it at this time of year, because if I had to name the greatest value that I have recently discovered — which has given me irreplaceable emotional and intellectual fuel, and for which I am especially “thankful” this year — it is value of history integrated through visual art.

Along those lines, here is one of my favorite pieces:

Empress Theodora at the Colosseum, by Benjamin Constant

My immediate response to this painting, which did not involve any focus on the historical details, was that I felt immersed in luxury.  The vibrant reds and yellows of the fabrics and the gold in the woman’s garments, the jewelry, the diadem, the flower petals, all made me feel that this was a place I could relax.

And I immediately fell in love with the curve–the curve that accentuates how the woman is laid back and her body has sunk down into the plush pillows.

Empress Theodora (Closeup), a.k.a. "The Curve"

There is also something very sensual about the woman herself.  I am reminded of Sargeant’s controversial Madame X.  Notice how they both have the bare shoulder and are both depicted in profile.  (More on that in a minute.)

Madame X, by John Singer Sargent

Obviously, since there is only one character in this image that’s where almost all of our attention is directed.  There are, however, a few additional elements that transform the image into what I would tentatively term a “narrative portrait”–a kind of half-way point between a portrait and a history painting, with the characteristics of both.

Evidently, the column is adorned with a golden wreath, which is symbolic of the emperor, so she is a member of the imperial family, most likely the empress.  (We know this from the title, of course, but I’m referring to approaching the image inductively, by which method we could still make that determination “visually,” as long as we have the least bit of knowledge of Roman icons.)

Beyond that, regarding the woman herself, she is evidently royalty.  The diadem is enough evidence of it, but the jewelry (bracelets, rings, earrings) all are indicative as well.  Her luxurious clothing, with gold accents, is somewhat revealing and ever so rich.

She is young, but not a girl.  She is slim, has smooth skin, and a “young” neck.  Her hands are delicate and smooth.

She is seated in a reclined, relaxed position on a kind of plush chaise or divan.  One hand rests on her outstretched left leg.  The other is draped over the top of the chaise, and is gently holding a flower.

Her eyes are almost closed.  She is looking downward, though not necessarily at anything in particular. Certainly, what she is not looking at is the spectacle for which she evidently has prime seating.

What is that spectacle?  A tiger is feasting on its victims in a stadium packed with crazed fans — a number of whom are reaching or gesturing excitedly from their seats towards the carnage below. (See here for a large version of the image.) The setting, evidently is gladiatorial games or simply the execution of criminals and/or Christians during Roman times.

The curtain, however, is drawn to separate her from the scene.  It is even weighted down by some kind of decorative object that is on the shelf next to her, beside the flower petals.

The key to the image is a precise integration of three things:

1) the woman’s separation from the Colosseum scene
2) her facial expression/look
3) the flower(s)

Evidently, as I’ve said, she’s not watching the spectacle.  What she is also not doing is looking at the flower(s).

There are so many images that we could draw upon for the sake of comparison here, to come to a clear interpretation, but look at this one:

A Rose, by John White Alexander

In this image, the woman is obviously fixated on the flower.  This warm, intimate image depicts a moment of reminiscence, in which she is recalling the experiences that the flower evokes.

With the empress, however, the flower does not appear to have any special significance.  It is there, in her hand, but in the manner of a trinket.  It certainly does not command her attention.  She just holding it in her hand as an afterthought, or even almost as an affectation.

What then of her expression?  It is almost featureless.  Certainly, there are no strong emotions visible.  In another context, it might well be interpreted as introspective, but I can’t see how it can be that in this context.  We can imagine the screaming crowd, and the noise of the tiger, which are barely muffled by the barrier that separates her from it all.  She would have to be aware of it, unless she were able to make a conscious effort to focus on something else.  If she were staring at the flower, as the woman is in the other image, then she might be able to block it out. But she is not.

So what is comes down to is precisely that separation between the outer world, and her, luxurious, personal world.  She is a woman apart. Her imperial status gives her that luxury — the luxury of not having to watch what the rest of the world thinks is entertainment.  She might have to be there for show, as the empress, but she can achieve that modicum of seclusion that her status affords.

Well, what about the history?

Empress Theodora was the wife of Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian.  She was a notorious theatrical performer and courtesan, with whom Justinian is said to have fallen madly in love (more likely lust).  I think this is why she is depicted in the sensual manner that she is.

It is said that she was highly intelligent, even to the point of dominating her husband, who is known as an accomplished emperor (responsible for promulgating a famous legal code, for one thing) and defying him in many areas (such as his doctrinal position in theological controversies).

Regarding the historical Theodora, we might be inclined to believe that Constant wanted to say that she did not approve of the cruelty of the way death sentences were carried out in the arena.  But she is not depicted in the images as disapproving, just aloof.  My interpretation, historically is thus that Constant wanted simply to highlight her sensuality and her separation from the people, as a historical theme.  Those certainly are the dominant elements of the painting.  (Another way of looking at this might be to assume that Constant intends to show us how the Emperor viewed the Empress.  He places the viewer in the Emperor’s seat, thus giving us a sense of how Theodora dominated the Emperor’s attention.)

Either way, the image can provide a certain inspiration.

In particular, I am reminded when viewing this image of Ayn Rand’s statement concerning civilization, which she defined as the process of “setting man free from men. When I think of Empress Theodora, I think of an intelligent if damaged person, living in a culture that was crumbling.  She was able to separate herself from the men of her time.  Her world apart is a refuge afforded to her by her imperial status, which, thanks to the torturous progress of civilization since then, each of us can now attain in far more significant ways.

Naturally, political considerations will encroach upon our historical evaluation of this image, but if, in viewing it, we focus primarily on the contrast between the bankruptcy of the outside social world and the intimate values of one’s personal world, then we can derive the greatest enjoyment from it.  Indeed, the scene captures the very idea of maintaining A World Apart, which is so important to refueling one’s soul for each new round of intellectual warfare we embark upon to save our own.

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Through the HistoryThroughArt program, you’ll learn to see history in a new way by combining the abstract lessons of history with the visual power of art!

Aren’t you tired of history books that bombard you with too many facts? Having trouble seeing the “big picture”? Are you convinced that understanding history is just not something you can do as an adult? If you’re like me, you had a terrible history education. (Who among us actually liked history in high school? Who among us learned anything of value?!)

After graduating from college, I started to really learn history for myself. I had to…I was teaching it! I already had a love of art as well, and these two passions slowly came together. For the past three years, I’ve been using art to enjoy history even more and to help my homeschooling students across the country better understand history as part of the HistoryAtOurHouse curriculum.

The verdict is in. Students and parents agree: it’s awesome! Art really helps bring the past to life. In fact, it has worked so well, I decided to pass on the the unique benefits of this program to adults.

Why learn history through art?
History is about the past. As obvious as that is, to recognize this simple fact helps us to understand why history can be so difficult to learn. There’s no way to experience history directly. The only way to learn about the past is to read about it. As engaging as some writers can be, it still takes a ton of reading to piece together the story of the past. Even if you’re willing to make that effort, and even if you are able to assimilate all of history’s stories, what you’re left with in the end is a lot of abstract information that isn’t easy to connect to your life here and now.

That’s where art can help.

Art has the ability to show us the past in visual form. Simply put, art lets us see history. In some ways, art can function much like photography and film do today. But art can also do so much more than document history. As we’ll see throughout this course, art can represent much more than just a moment in time. It can depict the meaning of history.

This is where the power of art can transform our awareness of history. The value of history lies not in its myriad facts, but in their meaning. In most instances, however, the meaning of events is the most difficult thing to grasp of all. After you’ve performed the research, you still need to do a lot of difficult thinking. Although there are no short cuts or “quick fixes” when it comes to this challenge, there are tools for facilitating the process. Art is one such tool. Through art we can see history’s meaning.

It’s a cliche, but it’s true: a picture really is worth a thousand words! In fact, when it comes to history, a picture–if it’s a great work of art–might be worth a lot more than that!

Program Details
History Through Art for Adults will operate in the same way as A First History for AdultsTM.

  • The program will operate on a three-year rotation: Ancient, European, and American history.
    • This year, the program will focus on European history.

    • Students will have two options for attending: live lectures, via conference-call and/or on-line recordings.

    • The program will run from September to June, with two seminars per month.

    • That’s 20 lectures in all!

    • Classes start September 2nd!
      • Each interactive seminar will last 1 hour to 1.5 hours.
      • Students will receive images and links via a dedicated class web page.
    • Live classes will be held Wednesday evenings at 8:30 PM Central Time (9:30 PM Eastern, 6:30 PM Pacific), usually on the first and third Wednesday of the month.

    • All lectures will be recorded and made available indefinitely for listeners to download for repeat listening.

    In every lecture, you’ll get an essentialized history lesson to help you learn the story or recapture the context. Then we will examine works of art that help us visualize the characters and events–and that help us grasp and retain the meaning of the story. Every lesson will combine the power of history and art!

    Can’t attend Wednesday nights?

      • You can listen to the lectures on-line, anytime.
      • Lectures can easily be downloaded to an iPod or other portable player.
      • You can listen as many times as you like.
    • Like A First History for AdultsTM classes, History Through Art for Adults classes are recorded.

    Program Cost

    History Through Art for Adults is available for only $20/month!

    • That’s less than the price of a movie per lecture! (And it’s better art!)

    Want to try it, before you buy the whole course?

    • Click here, and select a single month of lectures.

    The HistoryThroughArt program has been one of the most successful components of the HistoryAtOurHouse homeschooling curriculum of Powell History.  Combined with the unique pedagogical methods of A First History for AdultsTM, I’m certain that you will be amazed by how much you enjoy learning history!  Explore your registration options here.

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    I wish I had had time for all the posts I had planned for Columbus Week at Powell History, but these past months of teaching–I’m finally off for Christmas break!–have been wonderfully draining. Only now have I found the time to write about a wonderful new find I made.

    Recently, I discovered a fascinating painting by Peter Rothermel, the artist who is probably most well known for his depiction of Patrick Henry before the House of Burgesses. It turns out that Rothermel was quite prolific, and he created a number of paintings depicting parts of American history, and especially the American Revolution, which I’ve been thrilled to learn about. Today however, I want to present a painting connected to Columbus that highlights one of the more fascinating relationships that are a part of the story of the great explorer.

    As is somewhat common knowledge, it was Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain who upon defeating the last of the Muslims in Spain in 1492 agreed to send Columbus on his voyage. To be precise, however, it should be said that it was Isabella of Castile whose final consent made the epoch-making journey of 1492 possible, and it was Castile that paid the lion’s share. Thus, the relationship between Columbus and Isabella has been of considerable interest, and in paintings that depict Columbus arguing for his westward voyage or, later, pleading his case before the monarchs, it is generally towards Isabella that Columbus is oriented, not Ferdinand.

    Columbus before the Queen, by Peter Rothermel

    Columbus before the Queen, by Peter Rothermel

    Rothermel, for his part, has chosen the point in the story where Columbus is still making his case. His argument has captured the attention of a scribe, who pauses as if to ponder the notion rather than merely record the proceedings. Ferdinand, seated, motions to quiet his adviser. A young lady sits in rapt attention. Finally, Isabella–the most prominent figure in the main group–raises her hands to her bosom, transfixed.

    Although Isabella is standing on a raised platform, symbolizing her authority, she and Columbus are at the same height.  Because of the dark, cavernous, featureless space between them, a strong psychological line exists between them.  In viewing the image, the natural axis upon which one’s gaze moves back and forth from is from one face to the other.

    To help us understand what moment this is and what is passing between them, Rothermel provides a set of contextual clues–especially in the bottom right corner.

    It is perhaps when viewing this part of the painting that one becomes aware of deliberate distortions in the historicity of the image that Rothermel has employed to relay his theme.  In Columbus’s time, the main thing to grasp is not that the idea of a flat earth held sway (although it did); the more important thing to understand is that there simply wasn’t a point to worrying about it and nobody did. Only a select group of intellectuals in all of Europe were sufficiently literate and aware of  ancient and scientific geography to develop the specialized theoretical knowledge necessary to even debate the question in anything approaching a rational way.

    In this setting, globes were certainly not commonplace.  In fact, there probably wasn’t a single globe to be found in Europe! (Apparently, Martin Behaim, may have constructed the first modern globe in 1492, while Columbus was on his fateful voyage.)

    The charts and books make more sense from a strict historical perspective.  One is labeled “Marco Polo,” because Columbus was known to have been inspired by the Italian merchant’s travels to the Far East.  But it is their symbolic presence that matters more.  In much the same way, the portrayal of Columbus in aristocratic garb from a later period is intended to convey nobility, a dimension of the man’s character that Rothermel wished to make plain despite the fact that Columbus would never have been clothed in this way during his life.

    The painting was for a certain audience: the audience of Nineteenth century Americans who still believed in the essential heroism of Columbus and who also felt that Columbus’s relationship to Isabella was pivotal in leading to the discovery of America.  For those untroubled by modern revisionism, the image can still conjure this exciting theme.

    (To further explore this image, and to enjoy the other great works of Peter Rothermel, I highly recommend Rothermel, by Mark Thistlethwaite.  I’d grab one quickly.  It would make a great Christmas gift, and there are only a handful of copies out there!)

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    …Then, pale and worn, he kept his deck,
    And peered through darkness.
    Ah, that night Of all dark nights!
    And then a speck —
    A light! a light! a light! a light!
    It grew, a starlit flag unfurled!
    It grew to be Time’s burst of dawn.
    He gained a world; he gave that world
    Its grandest lesson: “On! sail on.”
    Columbus, by Joachin Miller
    Christopher Columbus, by Carl von Piloty

    Christopher Columbus, by Carl von Piloty

    The themes of the life of Christopher Columbus are timeless.  Among them are independence, vision, courage, dedication, perseverance.  All are captured in the excellent painting by German master historical painter Carl von Piloty in his painting simply entitled “Christopher Columbus.”

    A calm sea.  A starlit night.  The men are asleep.  But one man cannot rest.  He is driven by an idea–an idea which carried him and his advocates to the courts of the major seafaring powers of Europe for years to no avail–an idea that was rejected by the scholarly thinkers of his day as impractical and either way unacceptable–an idea so forcefully held, however, that it allowed him to imprint its aspect on the mind of the Queen of Castile, Isabella, bringing her ultimately to sponsor the voyage which has brought him to this point.

    The great mariner, conviction unshaken, is awake on the night that might very well seal his fate.  Mutiny is on the men’s minds; the fear of the unknown into which he has thrust them further than any man before, is more than these hardy sailors can take.  It must be soon, or all may be lost.  His best information and judgment suggest that land must be near.  By the light of a lamp he has been examining the maps, charts, and books that have guided him to this point.  It must be there.

    The strain on the man is visible.  The bags under his eyes attest to his sleepless task. But his vigor is unabated.  Even now he is composed, in the moment, when quite suddenly–so surprisingly that his violent motion has caused him to lose his hat and flung his hanging cross across his body–everything that he had hoped becomes reality!  His index finger is fixed to the spot where his mind believed land to be, and his eyes on the horizon take in the faint glimmer that means he was right!

    A light! A light! A light! A light!

    How many people in all of man’s past on earth have ever experienced something as powerful as this moment must have been for Columbus?

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    In 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte changed history.  In 1868, Jean-Leon Gerome showed us why.

    Bonaparte Before the Sphinx, by Jean-Leon Gerome

    Few figures in history are more controversial than Napoleon.  In his scholarly work “Napoleon: For and Against”, Pieter Geyl, a highly regarded academic historian, characterizes the litany of debates concerning this key figure over the past two centuries as an “argument without end.”

    Was he a destroyer of liberty or promoter of the rule of law? Was he a conqueror or liberator? Was he conservative or liberal, pragmatic or enlightened? To come to a proper evaluation of Napoleon one must develop a proper understanding of the manifold contradictions that have long mired European civilization, and especially the period which gave rise to his imperium: the French Revolution. Few individuals with such a historical footprint embody both the trend and the exception, both the tide of culture and the piercing shock of the individual, and both must be brought to account.

    For the record, let me say that I find Napoleon to be a malevolent and hateful man, despite (in some cases) positive intentions and (in some cases) positive results deriving from his actions. For all the good that was done to promote the dissolution of the decrepit order of European feudalism through his conquests (and through subsequent reaction to his conquests), no excuse can be made for the cataclysmic means employed, especially when they were used to promote a rotten code which blatantly evaded the only truly salutary principles so proudly hailed across the Atlantic.

    Whatever may be said morally about Napoleon, there can be no question, however, that he commands our attention. All of subsequent world history has been irrevocably conditioned by his presence in the time line, and it is in this regard that those of us who wish to change the world for the better should examine him.

    What was it about Napoleon that was exceptional, not mundane? What made him (in certain aspects) a world-changer, as opposed to a mere cipher of history? The root of the answer is provided in the deceptively simple painting: Bonaparte before the Sphinx, by Jean-Leon Gerome.

    In a barren landscape, in what appears to be a barren composition, a soldier–Bonaparte, of course–confronts the colossal remnant of a distant past.

    The man appears to be alone, but for the shadows of his aides, who remain sufficiently far back not to intrude on this moment of reflection.

    Slightly hunched, support himself by placing his hands on his thighs, Bonaparte sits in contemplation.

    Bonaparte Before the Sphinx (detail)

    It is important that we call him by his real name, Bonaparte.  He is not yet “Napoleon.”

    The year is 1798, and Bonaparte is leading an expedition to conquer Egypt.  His army is seen in the background, moving across a vast plain.

    What was Bonaparte doing in Egypt? France’s leaders at the time were as perplexed as many have been since.

    Egypt itself was not Napoleon’s goal.  The ultimate target in Napoleon’s mind was India. But to reach India despite the seemingly insuperable power of the British Navy, France would have to secure a land route. An alliance with Russia would have to be arranged. Also, the Ottomans and Persians would either have to be bullied or co-opted. But Bonaparte was the kind of individual who could project such a complex line of developments and take the steps necessary to bring it to fruition. In light of his subsequent failure due to the heroics of Admiral Nelson’s navy at the Battle of the Nile, historians have tended to downplay Napoleon’s concept, but as his later conquests would show, his ambition was usually matched by perceptiveness, intellectual penetration, and an ability to carry through the most complex plans.

    In addition, Jean-Leon Gerome proposes that Napoleon possessed yet another virtue: historical-mindedness.

    In the painting, Gerome portrays the still young Bonaparte–whose plans to change history have yet to unfold–pondering the ruins of a once great artifact.

    The particular juxtaposition of the larger-than-life Sphinx and the soon-to-be world-altering Frenchman on horseback has led some to find humor in the painting.  The man undoubtedly is smaller than the sculpture, and by making him look small, one may suppose that it makes him seem insignificant, even comically so.  However, had Gerome intended such a mood, he could easily have dwarfed the general by changing the perspective and including the Pyramids as well. Bonaparte is smaller, obviously, than the Sphinx. But this is fitting within the composition since he hasn’t yet earned a larger place in history.

    That Bonaparte is not yet a great historical figure but that he must already have dreamed of conquering the world by this point in his career is what matters.  It is this individual who is juxtaposed with the mysterious deity, which once held sway over civilization but now is no more.

    Thus the painting depicts a man who wishes to become important pondering something which was once important but is no longer.

    “Will it matter,” wonders Bonaparte?  What does matter in history?  Who or what has a lasting effect through time?

    Napoleon surely wished for a legacy.  But the Sphinx’s legacy, no matter how great it once was, had long been extinguished.

    The painting invites us to consider the theme of historical significance, and proposes in a subtle manner that no matter how great something is, it is eventually discarded and forgotten.  And yet, Napoleon’s presence in history, viewed from Gerome’s vantage point, and still from our own, defies this idea.

    That Napoleon did not accept this notion is a part of the reason why he occupies his unique place in story of mankind. Nobody who strives to change the world can accept that what they do doesn’t matter.  And nobody who does truly change the world in a significant way ever is lost to history.  The Sphinx also, despite lying in ruins and partially covered, still remains. Even if only as neglected ruin, it calls out through time for us to solve its mystery.

    As far as history is concerned, we can enjoy Gerome’s deceptively simple painting for its ability to conjure this manifold context of thoughts.  On a personal level, we can also derive an important benefit.  We can contemplate the question of the importance of things–of the every day toils we engage in to reach a great goal, of the problems that get blown out of proportion in the moment, but then fade away.  Some things are important, and we should pay them the attention they deserve.  Others are not, and we can let them go.

    Like Napoleon before the Sphinx, we have to consider the question, if we are to know the difference and act to make real changes.

    To help you on your own journey towards historical-mindedness, consider joining my 20-lecture history course on Ancient History, starting October 8th.  Learn more here.  Register here. (More information to come on this blog.)

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    OK.  Let’s switch tracks.  Modern politics is so depressing, and I’m sure we all need a metaphysical pick-me-up after thinking about Iran-Israel.

    I recently got two great art books for my birthday, and when I tell you that one of them was full of Victorian nudes, but that it’s the other one I’m most excited about, you’ll have some idea of how good it is! 😉

    I’m talking about the best book I’ve ever seen on the art of Sir Edward Everett Millais.  The book is simply entitled “Millais,” by Jason Rosenfeld and Alison Smith.  (Get it here, at an amazing price, from Amazon.) 

    Millais first came to my attention because he created some remarkable works of historical art.  My favorite of these is Huguenot Lovers, which depicts an intimate moment during the St.Bartholomew’s Day massacre of the religious civil wars in France.  The French Protestants, known as “Huguenots,” were to be massacred this day, by order of the royal family.  Catholics were to be safely identified by the white armbands they wore. 

    In Millais’s depiction of a great conflict of values related to this episode, a woman attempts to fasten a white band onto the arm of her lover, who, while embracing her, prevents her from doing so. 

    In the words of the poet, Richard Lovelace, “I could not love thee, Dear, so much, Loved I not Honour more.


    Also worth a look: John Everett Milais, Beyond the Pre-Raphaelist Brotherhood.  It’s has a more limited thesis, and does not offer the same comprehensive presentation as the Rosenfeld-Smith book, but it’s still nice.  Also, if you can find it, Sir John Everett Millais by Geoffroy Millais has been a happy component of my collection.  It’s older, so the reproductions are not quite as sharp, however.

    Two other books, worth a look for insight into the work of Millais

    For more information about Millais, you can also take in a post I wrote about another one of his works, The Boyhood of Sir Walter Raleigh over at HistoryAtOurHouse.  

    This artist is fighting for a place in my top five favorite painters of all time!  Find out why, by picking up the amazing Rosenfeld-Smith book!

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