(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Renaissance

“I propose to build for eternity”*…

Florence Duomo as seen from Michelangelo hill

Sent back in time 600 years and tasked with building the world’s largest dome, how would most of us fare? Most of us, of course, are not trained architects or engineers, but then, neither was Filippo Brunelleschi. Known at the time as a goldsmith, Brunelleschi ended up winning the commission to build just such a colossal dome atop Florence’s Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, which itself had already been under construction for well over a century. The year was 1418, the dawn of the Italian Renaissance, but a break with medieval building styles had already been made, not least in the rejection of the kind of flying buttresses that had held up the stone ceilings of previous cathedrals. Brunelleschi had thus not just to build an unprecedentedly large dome, in accordance with a design drawn up 122 years earlier, but also to come up with the technology required to do so.

“He invented an ox-driven hoist that brought the tremendously heavy stones up to the level of construction,” architect David Wildman tells HowStuffWorks. Noticing that “marble for the project was being damaged as it was unloaded off of boats,” he also “invented an amphibious boat that could be used on land to transport the large pieces of marble to the cathedral.”

These and other new devices were employed in service of an ingenious structure using not just one dome but two, the smaller inner one reinforced with hoops of stone and chain. Built in brick — the formula for the concrete used in the Pantheon having been lost, like so much ancient Roman knowledge — the dome took sixteen years in total, which constituted the final stage of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore’s generations-long construction.

Brunelleschi’s masterpiece, still the largest masonry dome in the world, has yet to quite yield all of its secrets: “There is still some mystery as to how all of the components of the dome connect with each other,” as Wildman puts it, thanks to Brunelleschi’s vigilance about concealing the nature of his techniques throughout the project. But you can see some of the current theories visualized (and, in a shamelessly fake Italian accent, hear them explained) in the National Geographic video [below]. However he did it, Brunelleschi ensured that every part of his structure fit together perfectly — and that it would hold up six centuries later, when we can look at it and see not just an impressive church, but the beginning of the Renaissance itself…

How Filippo Brunelleschi, untrained in architecture or engineering, built the world’s largest dome at the dawn of the Renaissance.

For more on the dome, see Ross King’s marvelous 2013 book, Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture.

And for more on Brunelleschi— whose other accomplishments include the first precise system of linear perspective, which revolutionized painting and opened the way for the naturalistic styles of Renaissance art– see here.

* Filippo Brunelleschi

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As we go big, we might recall that it was on this date in 330 that Roman Emperor Constantine the Great consecrated Constantinople (on the site of what had been the ancient city of Byzantium; today, Istanbul). Constantine identified the site of Byzantium as a place where an emperor could sit, readily defended, with easy access to the Danube or the Euphrates frontiers, his court supplied from the rich gardens and sophisticated workshops of Roman Asia, his treasuries filled by the wealthiest provinces of the Empire.

The city became famous for its architectural masterpieces, such as Hagia Sophia, the cathedral of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Built by the eastern Roman emperor Justinian I as the Christian cathedral of Constantinople for the state church of the Roman Empire between 532 and 537, the church was then the world’s largest interior space and among the first to employ a fully pendentive dome. It is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture and is said to have “changed the history of architecture”… It set the bar for Brunelleschi.

Hagia Sophia

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“Everyone should be able to do one card trick, tell two jokes, and recite three poems, in case they are ever trapped in an elevator”*…

Two things make tall buildings possible: the steel frame and the safety elevator. The elevator, underrated and overlooked, is to the city what paper is to reading and gunpowder is to war. Without the elevator, there would be no verticality, no density, and, without these, none of the urban advantages of energy efficiency, economic productivity, and cultural ferment. The population of the earth would ooze out over its surface, like an oil slick, and we would spend even more time stuck in traffic or on trains, traversing a vast carapace of concrete. And the elevator is energy-efficient—the counterweight does a great deal of the work, and the new systems these days regenerate electricity. The elevator is a hybrid, by design…

The history, design, economics, and psychology of the technology that made modern cities possible– the lives of elevators: “Up and Then Down.”

* Daniel Handler

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As we press the button, we might recall that it was on this date in 1527, during the War of the League of Cognac, that an estimated 20,000 mutinous troops of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor (angered over unpaid wages) carried out the Sack of Rome (which was then part of the papal States). For three days, they pillaged the city, grabbing valuables and demanding tributes. They overpowered (and killed most of) the Swiss Guard, and took Pope Clement VII hostage (in Castel Sant’Angelo); he was freed only after a hefty ransom was paid. Benvenuto Cellini, witnessed the Sack and described the it in his works.

In the aftermath, Rome– which had been the center of Italian High Renaissance culture– never recovered its momentum. Indeed, many historians consider the Sack of Rome the end of the Renaissance.

The Sack of Rome, by Johannes Lingelbach (17th century)

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

May 6, 2021 at 1:01 am

“Inanimate objects sometimes appear endowed with a strange power of sight. A statue notices”*…

Scan the World is an ambitious initiative that gives you the possibility to enjoy 3D printable representations of cultural artifacts in a remarkably tangible way. The community led project enables everyone with access to the internet to experience material culture in an emotionally impactful manner, one which digital images cannot otherwise offer. The collaborative, living network removes the barriers of geographic location and socioeconomic backgrounds by empowering you to engage, behold, scan or own a copy of 3d printable artifacts that hold significance for you. The collective effort is as much about renowned historical artifacts as it is about household antiques with deep culturally significant roots.

Your contributions work to bridge the gap between technology and the arts. The web of diverse sharers range from educators, scanners, storytellers, artists, makers, historians, art lovers, globe trotters and all passionate individuals, eager to share a piece of their unique culture. Scan the world is about adding dimension to your cultural identity by sharing your views, roots, artifacts and narratives with the world. Providing you with space to deepen your understanding of your personal heritage while giving you the freedom to enrich the otherwise untold story of your ancestors. This initiative was born to put culture back on the map; to connect you to your roots and sense of belonging, and give you a chance to share and strengthen your understanding of yourself. You are the result of the generations that came before you. This network in its truest form is a shared, open access, museum of the future, built by and for you…

Cultural heritage is important for historical research and education as well as establishing a sense of identity amongst communities. Through documenting the past, cultural heritage comes in both physical and intangible forms which include objects, monuments, beliefs, rituals and traditions. 

Scan the World collects stories from people and museums alike, to share various views on the importance and impact of culture, helping diversify our personal approach to art. As different individuals will have very different experiences and values within their own culture, this network provides a safe space for culture to be shared and discovered, no matter where in the world it comes from… 

Access to heritage: Scan the World collects and shares 3-D printable files of cultural artifacts (since it’s inception in 2014, over 17,000, by over 1800 artists/artisans, from over 800 places around the world).

* Victor Hugo

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As we peruse our past, we might spare a thought for someone whose work is in STW– the painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, physicist, chemist, anatomist, botanist, geologist, cartographer, and writer– the archetypical Renaissance Man– Leonardo da Vinci.  Quite possibly the greatest genius of the last Millennium, he died on this date in 1519.

 Self-portrait in red chalk, circa 1512-15 [source]

“Everyone loves a conspiracy”*…

An anonymous image used as the face of the Luther Blissett Project

As the US Capitol was overwhelmed by Donald Trump supporters in early January, one figure stood out: with his painted face, bare chest, fur hat and American flag-draped spear, Jake Angeli became one of the most photographed rioters of the day. He is also known as the “QAnon Shaman” and has been seen waving a “Q sent me” placard in other protests.

QAnon is America’s most dangerous conspiracy theory, and if you pull hard enough on its threads, the whole tangled mess lands, somehow, at the feet of a group of Italian artists. It might sound like a conspiracy within a conspiracy, but, as Buzzfeed first reported in 2018, chances are that QAnon, at the start at least, took inspiration from an amorphous organisation of leftist artists who, for most of the mid-1990s, called themselves Luther Blissett after the 1980s English footballer.

They used the Watford and England striker’s name as a nom de plume, perpetrating countless media hoaxes, pranks and art interventions. They started raves on trams that turned into riots, they released albums, wrote books and manifestos, they mocked, questioned and undermined the mainstream, and they grew and grew until hundreds of people around the world were calling themselves Luther Blissett.

In the process, with their media-jamming hoaxes, they helped lay the groundwork for QAnon, a conspiracy theory about a secret satanic cabal of child abusers which controls the world. During the 2016 presidential elections, it famously gave rise to the rumour that Hillary Clinton ran a paedophile ring in a pizza parlour, Comet Ping Pong. More recently, QAnon has become a mainstay of far-right protests and riots, including the US Capitol insurrection.

Among Luther Blissett’s original ranks you will find leading contemporary artists including Eva and Franco Mattes, critical theorists such as Matteo Pasquinelli, and writers like Stewart Home.

The Luther Blissett Project (LBP) was an exercise in anonymity, in group creativity, in forcing left-wing ideals into the mainstream. And it would have remained a neat quirk of 1990s Italian cultural history if the group had not also released Q, a best-selling novel translated into multiple languages and published across the world.

The links between QAnon and Q extend far beyond alphabetic similarities. The book follows a subversive heretic as he joins a series of revolts across 16th-century Europe. Throughout, he is pursued relentlessly by a Papist agent called Q, a figure who manipulates facts and spreads disinformation to sow seeds of doubt in society and help maintain the dominance of the church, infiltrating and sabotaging every revolt, every uprising.

Sound familiar? It should, because the Q of today’s QAnon has a similar origin story, and similar methods. QAnon’s Q is a supposed White House insider, who in October 2017 began posting farfetched but incredibly popular “insider” information from the White House on the 4chan message board. Paedophilia, the Rothschilds, an impending “storm”, QAnon has multiple targets and beliefs…

From ritual abuse to secret government insiders and media hoaxes, the links between QAnon and LBP are striking. The LBP ended in 1999, with five of the founding members (Roberto Bui, Giovanni Cattabriga, Luca Di Meo, Federico Guglielmi and Riccardo Pedrini) going on to form the Wu Ming Foundation, a writer’s collective. Wu Ming 1 (all the authors use Wu Ming as a nom de plume) thinks the similarities are too obvious to ignore: “If they are coincidences, well, there’s a huge amount of them and they’re impressive,” he says…

An anonymous left-wing art group known in the 1990s as Luther Blissett are wondering what they have unwittingly helped create: “QAnon: the Italian artists who may have inspired America’s most dangerous conspiracy theory.” (Soft paywall: do read it all.)

For more on conspiracy theories as a cultural and political phenomenon: “The enduring allure of conspiracies.”

* A man who should know: Dan Brown, The DaVinci Code

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As we get the joke, we might spare a thought for Charlemagne; he died on this date in 814.  A ruler who united the majority of western and central Europe (first as King of the Franks, then also King of the Lombards, finally adding Emperor of the Romans), he was the first recognized emperor to rule from western Europe since the fall of the Western Roman Empire three centuries earlier; the expanded Frankish state that he founded is called the Carolingian Empire, the predecessor to the Holy Roman Empire.

In 789, he began the establishment of schools teaching the elements of mathematics, grammar, music, and ecclesiastic subjects; every monastery and abbey in his realm was expected to have a school for the education of the boys of the surrounding villages.  The tradition of learning he initiated helped fuel the expansion of medieval scholarship in the 12th-century Renaissance.

Charlemagne is considered the father of modern Europe. At the same time, in accepting Pope Leo’s investiture, he set up ages of conflict: Charlemagne’s coronation as Emperor, though intended to represent the continuation of the unbroken line of Emperors from Augustus, had the effect of creating up two separate (and often opposing) Empires– the Roman and the Byzantine– with two separate claims to imperial authority. It led to war in 802, and for centuries to come, the Emperors of both West and East would make competing claims of sovereignty over the whole.

Pope Leo III, crowning Charlemagne Emperor

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

January 28, 2021 at 1:01 am

“History may be divided into three movements: what moves rapidly, what moves slowly, and what appears not to move at all.”*…

Out of Italy was Braudel’s attempt to… explain a historical flash in the pan: the Italian Renaissance.

For Braudel, history was a struggle to see connections across the high walls of academic disciplines. This kind of approach to the past, showing that all ‘civilisations have their feet on the ground’, is Braudel and the Annales school’s most important legacy: the value of interdisciplinary research, as exemplified by their radical programme, is now so tacitly accepted as to be hardly worth mentioning.

If Italy’s rise must be explained, so, Braudel thought, must its decline. Today, historians are not so concerned with questions of cultural supremacy and decay; they don’t view culture as a vital force that can be ‘concentrated and exhausted’ in a couple of centuries. But the explanation for the fizzling out of this creative energy in the mid-17th century vexed Braudel. He saw the seeds of Italy’s decline within its greatness, borrowing Léon Brunschvicg’s image for ancient Greece’s influence (which Brunschvicg in turn had taken from Hegel): the owl of Athena takes flight only at nightfall. ‘Rightly or wrongly,’ Braudel wrote, ‘it seems to me that there must be a kind of nightfall preceding, and determining, almost every case of cultural greatness. It is the darkness that provokes a multitude of lights.’ The catastrophes of the Italian Wars (1494-1559) and a declining economy were the shadows that prompted the brilliance of Renaissance art and culture; it was peace and economic tranquillity that ‘spread like treacle through Italian life’ after the treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis in 1559. Greatness (and influence) was born in darkness.

To make his point Braudel asks us to imagine conversations with three Baroque architects: with Agostino Barelli (from Bologna), standing outside his Theatine Church in Munich in 1660; with Carlo Antonio Carlone (from Como), as he began work on his Church of the Nine Angelic Choirs in Vienna in 1663; and with Andrea Pozzo (from Trento), while he oversaw the construction of his Jesuit Church in Vienna in 1701. Three Italians, three major building projects outside Italy. They would have been surprised to learn that Italy was on the path to decline…

How could cultures as vibrant as Baroque Italy or interwar Europe have been so radically diminished? Italy’s economic dominance would be supplanted first by the capitalist burghers of the Netherlands and then by English industrialists….

Braudel’s writing also sought to confront the inability of even the greatest historians to predict what would happen next. In this light, his pessimism about human time and human stories can be hard to face… And yet Braudel is optimistic about human civilisations:

Mortal perhaps are their ephemeral blooms, the intricate and short-lived creations of an age, their economic triumphs and their social trials, in the short term. But their foundations remain. They are not indestructible, but they are many times more solid than one might imagine. They have withstood a thousand supposed deaths, their massive bulk unmoved by the monotonous pounding of the centuries.

Nothing changes, and individual lives barely leave an imprint. But this is not tragic determinism. It is an unshakeable belief in the persistence of human history through time. ‘A Renaissance,’ Braudel writes, ‘is always possible.’

On Fernand Braudel‘s Out of Italy, and an appreciation of its insightful author, a leader of the Annales school of history: “Down with Occurrences.”

* Fernand Braudel

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As we think in time, we might recall that it was on this date in 1803 that Spanish representatives in New Orleans executed documents ceding sovereignty over the Louisiana Territory to France. Twenty days later, France transferred the Territory to the United States.

The U.S. gained possession of 828,000 square miles of territory (an area that includes all or part of 15 current U.S. states and 2 Canadian provinces).  Americans had originally sought to purchase only the port city of New Orleans and its adjacent coastal lands; but Napoleon, cash-strapped by his war with England, offered the (much) larger parcel– and the U.S. quickly agreed.

250px-Louisiana_Purchase
The modern continental United States, with the Louisiana Purchase overlaid

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 30, 2020 at 1:01 am

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