Marble & Heavenly Bodies


Michelangelo’s Grocery
List & the Finger of Galileo

What if future generations would wind up knowing famous people not for what we celebrate them for, but for something entirely unexpected? What if, in the big scheme, that’s what’s all about, or rather, how would you like to be known a century from now?
Michelangelo Buonarroti and Galileo Galilei, whose mastery of arts and sciences summarizes much of mankind’s greatness, may be safe from such a vexing fate. Nevertheless, recent news about them did make us wonder, over 400 years after their time.
In 2014, Illinois-based weapons maker ArmaLite had an awful idea: to outfit Michelangelo‘s masterpiece David with an assault rifle, committing not just an act of vandalism for profit, but also insulting four centuries of enlightenment to transcend our destructive nature.
Almost as offensive to any human who’s ever contemplated in awe the universe, let alone Galileo‘s memory, was a National Science Foundation study, that found that one in four Americans, or some 80 million of us, simply doesn’t know that the Earth orbits the Sun.

INTERTWINED LEGENDS
It’s very likely that both ArmaLite and those millions of our fellow voters remain unaware that Michelangelo died over 456 years ago, only three days after Galileo was born, both in the same region known today as Italy. Or even what greatness we’re talking about here.
After all, it’s really a coincidence that they were joined by such a happenstance of date and place. But it’s no casual fact that they both defined their age and set the standards to all others that followed it, in ways that still resonate with our world today.
And it’s a bit petty to castigate people for caring little whether Michelangelo‘s art makes us a bit more deserving of the wonders of our own time, or that Galileo‘s telescope introduced us to the stars, from which we inherited the dust that makes up our bodies.
But times, alas, are barely open to wonders, enigmas, or marvels of the physical world. While the Renaissance bred so many geniuses and they, in return, doted us with their indelible foresight and imagination, we got used to ignoring every star above us, as the song goes.
We’re content to juxtapose the sublime with the abhorrent, like David with a gun, and relish on the comfort of long-debunked beliefs, (more)
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Medieval Crafts


Would You Rather Find a Job or
Be a Vagabond 500 Years Ago?

If you’ve been feeling left out of this so-called gig economy, imagine how you’d fare in another time. As in traveling back in time to, say, 500 years ago, just to check one of London’s job listing boards circa 1550. In fact, who hasn’t imagined, from the safety of one’s mind, of course, how Medieval townsfolk went about their business?
You could meet Cornelis Bos, for instance, who enjoyed drawing what looks like taxis driven by satyrs. Have a chat with Willielmus de Lench, a grain thresher, or try a brew with Matild de Grafton, an alewife, all common names and occupations of the time. Or you could find easier pickings as a jarkman, another word for vagrant.
There are plenty of records about that particularly gruesome time to be alive anywhere, but as the saying goes, history is told by the powerful. So while you may be wise to King Arthur and his gallant knights, there’s no word about their ostler, the guy who’d take care of their horses. Which, as most occupations of poor people, would run in families.
Don’t be discouraged though. Even if we may not find a suitable position for a person of your qualifications, you still may learn a thing or two about how people would make a living then, some of the common surnames that have survived to these days, and the surprisingly variety of outlaw types populating the era.
Oh, and throughout this post, check the exquisitely elaborated 1550 art of Cornelis Bos. You may as well pick a few interesting subjects to use in your next job interview, so to give the recruiter a bone to chew, while you think about how to answer that minefield of a question they all love to throw at you: so, what have you been doing all this time?

WORKING FOR THE MAN
As anyone may have already noticed, a lot of traditional surnames have originated from common occupations, geographical locations and even physical characteristics. In English, that’s likely the case if your last name is Baker, Brown, Blacksmith, Coleman, Taylor, White and so on.
But you’d be surprised with the bulk of professions still relevant, five centuries and a whole universe of technological advances later. People still work in government, or for someone, have their own business, or simply own a crooked idea of what it means to make a honest buck.
One could argue, though, that few thieves or professional criminals would’ve dressed up as wealthy people then, while now, heyday of sorts for the lying business, we may have one at the White House. But really? What when they’d pillage and burn to the ground a whole country? That’d assure them graces and riches from aristocracy and royal titles to boot. So, it all always comes down to being humans.
For the government, you could be a catchpole, a ‘chicken catcher,’ a hayward, an officer in charge of fences and hedges, and a liner, who’d set property boundaries. You wouldn’t want to mess with a bailiff, who could arrest and execute you, but you could be friends with reeves, which was how church wardens were called, and wouldn’t hurt you to know a master of the revels, those in charge of court entertainment.

VALUABLE LEARNING SKILLS
At large, there were military and religious occupations, sailors and scholars, flora and fauna laborers, your usual share of artists and entertainers (we heard that a bard, some Shakespeare dude, is quite good), and an infinitude of craftsmen and merchants, a category to which alehouse keeper Matild belonged to, as did olde pal de Lench.
But perhaps it’s under the ‘regular folk’ lists where demand for a variety of skill sets would get you by, as well as some of those names could be found. Did some traveling? you could be a palmer, someone (more)
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Renaissance Faire

Mike & Leo’s Excellent
New York City Adventure

Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci are having a moment at the Big Apple: a massive Met show of drawings of the former is enchanting crowds, and a work attributed to the latter just broke records at an auction yesterday. Not bad for the two Renaissance superstars who’ve been dead for five centuries.
Michelangelo’s Divine Draftsman and Designer brings to the city the largest number of drafts ever assembled for a show. And suspicions about Salvator Mundi, a newly-discovered 1500 painting of da Vinci, didn’t prevent it from reaching a staggering $450 million at an equally crowded Christie’s session.
New Yorkers have it good and don’t even know it. Don’t quote us on that, but an unscientific survey could show that museum attendance by residents is declining, as ‘voluntary’ entry fees went up. But we can always count on our lovely tourists to gladly pick up the slack.
And until they ban cellphones at these places, they’ll keep on increasingly becoming madhouses, with selfie-takers colliding with each other in the rush to impress their social media followers. Sadly, despite ever so eager to be seen as hip, many miss out on the very experience of being in the presence of a work of art, glaring at their faces.
No wonder curators bend backwards to fashion and the culture of celebrities, hoping they’ll attract a fresh crowd of art-seekers, despite having centuries of appreciation to prove the worth of their wares. In the end, the famous also take their own annoying selfies, strictly to post them on Web accounts. And walk away, ushered by handlers.

SKETCH COLLECTION OF A TITAN
The reinvigorating quality of a master such as Michelangelo, born 543 years ago next March, is that every new sighting of his works turns out another revelation. These Metropolitan Museum of Art drawings trace back the pictorial genius at the core of his innate creative verve.
Every small draft, whether it found or not its way to the splendor at the ceiling of the Vatican’s Capela Sistina, started as a subtle dialog, a tenuous answer to whatever turmoil he already had in mind, about fulfilling his task. To completely realize them, he’d need a few lifetimes.
But mankind is grateful of what he managed to accomplish in just one. Despite having to hide at times from the politics of his age, or persevere even when the other gargantuan contemporary of his had but contempt about his art, he’d live to almost 90, as if in a mission to give us all an eternal name.

THE REACH OF AN UNIVERSAL MAN
Leonardo took 67 years to explore and leave his imprint on almost as many disciplines of human knowledge, some that he discovered, others, that he redefined. Considering all his accomplishments as an inventor and artist, is astonishing that, among all, he’s known as (more)
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Eye of Beholder

Eyes of Mona Lisa May Hide
Leonardo’s 500-Year Secret

So it turned out that, while we were being captivated by her smile, the real enigma of the Mona Lisa was hidden in her eyes. It’s just the latest mystery surrounding one of the most famous paintings of all time, Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, of which we know close to nothing.
In fact, our five-century old fascination with La Gioconda, as it’s known in Italy where it was painted in 1503, bears pure obsession. Throughout the years, scientists have engaged in heated contests as to why she didn’t have eyebrows, whether her smile had something to do with high cholesterol, and who on earth was she. Was this the portrait of Lisa Gherardini, the wife Continue reading