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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Art & Architecture, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 59
1. The destruction of an Assyrian palace

Ashurnasirpal’s palace at Nimrud (Assyrian Kalḫu) was constructed around 865 BCE during a period in which Assyria was slowly becoming the empire that would come to rule most of the Middle East two centuries later. Ashurnasirpal’s palace is among the few Assyrian palaces to have been excavated (more or less) in its entirety. Measuring at least 2 hectares, it must have been one of the largest and most monumental buildings of its time.

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2. The final years of Fanny Cornforth

Family historians know the sensation of discovery when some longstanding ‘brick wall’ in their search for an elusive ancestor is breached. Crowds at the recent ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ exhibition at Birmingham explored the new resources available to assist their researches, and millions worldwide subscribe to online genealogical sites, hosting ever-growing volumes of digitized historical records, in the hope of tracking down their family roots.

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3. Leaving New York

In the 1940s and early ’50s, the avant-garde art world of New York was a small, clubby place, similar in many ways to the tight (and equally contentious) circle of the New York intelligentsia. Many artists rented cheap downtown Manhattan industrial loft spaces with rudimentary plumbing and heat.

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4. Women in Philosophy: A reading list

To celebrate Women in Philosophy as part of Women’s History Month, we have created a reading list of books, journals, and online resources that explore significant female philosophers and feminist philosophy in general. Recommendations range from general interest books to biographies to advanced reader books and more.

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5. Animal Mother, Mother of Animals, Guardian of the Road to the Land of the Dead

We were working in Baga Oigor II when I heard my husband yelling from above, “Esther, get up here, fast!” Thinking he had seen some wild animal on a high ridge, I scrambled up the slope. There, at the back of a protected terrace marked by old stone mounds was a huge boulder covered with hundreds of images. Within that maze of elements I could distinguish a hunting scene and several square patterns suggesting the outlines of dwellings.

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6. Who was Leonardo da Vinci? [quiz]

On 15 April, nations around the globe will be celebrating World Art Day, which is also Leonardo da Vinci’s birthday. A creative mastermind and one of the top pioneers of the Italian Renaissance period, his artistic visions fused science and nature producing most notably the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper.

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7. Rita Angus, Grove Art Online

We invite you to explore the biography of New Zealand painter Rita Angus, as it is presented in Grove Art Online.

New Zealand painter. Angus studied at the Canterbury School of Art, Christchurch (1927–33). In 1930 she married the artist Alfred Cook (1907–70) and used the signature Rita Cook until 1946; they had separated in 1934. Her painting Cass (1936; Christchurch, NZ, A.G.) is representative of the regionalist school that emerged in Canterbury during the late 1920s, with the small railway station visualizing both the isolation and the sense of human progress in rural New Zealand. The impact of North American Regionalism is evident in Angus’s work of the 1930s and 1940s. However, Angus was a highly personal painter, not easily affiliated to specific movements or styles. Her style involved a simplified but fastidious rendering of form, with firm contours and seamless tonal gradations (e.g. Central Otago). Her paintings were invested with symbolic overtones, often enigmatic and individual in nature. The portrait of Betty Curnow (1942; Auckland, A.G.) has generated a range of interpretations relating both to the sitter, wife of the poet Allen Curnow, and its social context.

In her self-portraits, Angus pictured a complex array of often contradictory identities. In Self-portrait (1936–7; Dunedin, NZ, Pub. A.G.) she played the part of the urban, sophisticated and assertive ‘New Woman’. Amongst her most candid works are a series of nude self-portrait pencil drawings, while her watercolours also constitute an important body of work, ranging from portraits and landscapes to painstaking but striking botanical studies such as Passionflower (1943; Wellington, Mus. NZ, Te Papa Tongarewa). The watercolourTree (1943; Wellington, Mus. NZ, Te Papa Tongarewa) carries a sense of mystery, with its surreal stillness and emptiness. Angus’s ‘Goddess’ paintings are equally mysterious. A Goddess of Mercy (1945–7; Christchurch, NZ, A.G.) is an image of peace and harmony. Angus was a pacifist and a conscientious objector during World War II. In Rutu (1951; Wellington, Mus. NZ, Te Papa Tongarewa), she modelled the goddess on her own features, but created a composite figure, half Maori, half European, which suggests an ideal condition of bicultural harmony. The lotus flower held by Rutu reflects Angus’s interest in Buddhism. She thought the Goddess paintings were her most important, and it is on the basis of these works that Angus was hailed as a feminist by subsequent artists and writers.

Cass Station, Canturbury, which inspired Rita Angus's painting, Cass. Photo by Phillip Capper. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.
Cass Station, Canturbury, which inspired Rita Angus’s painting, Cass. Photo by Phillip Capper. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.

Angus aimed to evoke transcendental states of being, or a vision beyond mundane reality. In this respect her work connects to European modernism, more so than on the basis of any stylistic affinities. Nonetheless, Angus absorbed some of modernism’s formal innovations, notably degrees of simplification and flattening of form. Towards the end of her career, while she retained motifs based on observation, these were schematic and assembled into composite images, such as Flight(1968–9; Wellington, Mus. NZ, Te Papa Tongarewa). Her Fog, Hawke’s Bay (1966–8; Auckland, A.G.) manifests elements of the faceting and multiple viewpoints of Cubism. Angus’s hard-edged style influenced a younger generation of New Zealand painters, including Don Binney (b 1940) and Robin White.

Bibliography

  • Docking: Two Hundred Years of New Zealand Painting(Wellington, 1970), p. 146
  • Rita Angus (exh. cat. by J. Paul and others, Wellington, NZ, N.A.G., 1982)
  • Rita Angus (exh. cat., ed. L. Bieringa; Wellington, N.A.G., 1983)
  • Rita Angus: Live to Paint, Paint to Live (exh. cat. by V. Cochran and J. Trevvelyan; Auckland, C.A.G., 2001)
  • V. Cochran and J. Trevelyan: Rita Angus: Live to Paint, Paint to Live(Auckland, 2001)
  • M. Dunn: New Zealand Painting: A Concise History(Auckland, 2003), pp. 85–8
  • P. Simpson: ‘Here’s Looking At You: The Cambridge Terrace Years of of Leo Bensemann and Rita Angus’,Journal of New Zealand Art History, xxv (2004), pp. 23–32
  • J. Trevelyan: Rita Angus: An Artist’s Life(Wellington, 2008)
  • Rita Angus: Life and Vision (exh. cat., ed. W. McAloon and J. Trevelyan; Wellington, Mus. NZ, Te Papa Tongarewa, 2008)

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8. A composer’s thoughts on re-presentation and transformation

My father, Paul Bullard, was a landscape and portrait painter, and on family holidays he would sit and sketch, sometimes with me by his side, filling my music manuscript paper. As a child, I used to think that his task was easier than mine: all he had to do was to put on paper what he could see in front of him, whereas on the other hand I had to imagine a whole sound world, hearing music in my head, and then put it down on paper. Of course that wasn’t really correct: what I didn’t realize was that his task was to re-present the view in front of him in pen and ink, or oils, and not merely copy it. In other words it was an equally creative process to composing.

Paul Bullard: Suffolk Garden’ courtesy of Alan Bullard
‘Paul Bullard: Suffolk Garden’ courtesy of Alan Bullard

So what my father was doing, I suppose, was looking at an existing object from a different angle, ‘arranging’ it for pen and ink, and that just got me thinking about the way that composers often do that too. At the moment I’m reading John Eliot Gardiner’s book Music in the Castle of Heaven and guided by that I’ve been listening to some of J. S. Bach’s cantatas. In most of these, Bach takes a well-known melody and re-presents it, embroidering the material in a myriad of ways. It wasn’t a new idea of course: composers had been doing it for hundreds of years, but Bach’s skill and variety in transforming the ‘known’ material, both in his choral works and his organ Preludes, is breathtaking. And ever since, many composers have loved to re-present the old with the new in the same way.

And so when I came to write my recent Advent cantata, I found myself using the traditional hymn ‘O come, o come Emmanuel’ as a starting point. I turn its phrase shapes into recitatives, and use it as a slowly moving melody in some voices against more decorative singing in the others, so that although the hymn is never sung in its complete form, it permeates the whole work and, I hope, gives the listener a sense of security and comfort. In a similar way, my Christmas cantata, A light in the stable uses the ancient hymn ‘Of our Maker’s love begotten’ as a melodic basis throughout, as well as using a number of Christmas carols, concealed in the background as well as in the foreground.

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9. Big state or small state?

As we head towards another General Election in 2015, once again politicians from the Right and Left will battle it out, hoping to persuade the electorate that either a big state or small state will best address the challenges facing our society. For 40 years, Germans living behind the Iron Curtain in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) had first-hand experience of a big state, with near-full employment and heavily subsidized rent and basic necessities. Then, when the Berlin Wall fell, and East Germany was effectively taken over by West Germany in the reunification process, they were plunged into a new capitalist reality. The whole fabric of daily life changed, from the way people voted, to the brand of butter they bought, to the newspapers that they read. Circumstances forced East Germans to swap Communism for Capitalism, and their feelings about this change remain quite diverse.

Initially, East Germans flooded across the border, bursting with excitement and curiosity to see what the West was like – a ‘West’ that most had only known through watching Western television. For some, sampling a McDonald’s hamburger – the ultimate symbol of Western capitalism – was high on the to-do list, for others it was access to Levi’s jeans or exotic fruit that was particularly novel.

Berlin Wall, November, 1989, by gavinandrewstewart. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.
Going over the Berlin Wall, November, 1989, by gavinandrewstewart. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.

At the same time as delighting in consumer improvements however, many East Germans felt ambivalent about the wider changes. Decades of state propaganda that painted Western societies as unjust places where homelessness, drugs and unemployment were rife, had left its mark, and many East Germans felt unsure and slightly fearful of what was to come.

From a position of full employment in 1989, 3 years after reunification 15% of East Germans were out of work. For those who struggled to put bread on the table after reunification, the advantages of having a wider range of goods to buy remained a largely theoretical gain. For others however, reunification led to greater freedom to pursue individual career choices that were not dictated by the state’s needs.

The end of East Germany’s ‘big state’ model led to the disbanding of its Secret Police, the Stasi, which had rooted out opposition to the State’s dictates. In the 1980s, 91, 000 people worked for the Stasi full time and a further 173, 000 acted as informers. To enforce socialism, they tapped people’s phones, wired their houses, trailed suspects and even collected smell samples in jars, so that sniffer dogs could track their movements.

For those who were made to feel vulnerable and afraid by a regime that watched, trailed and threatened to imprison them, such as political opponents, Christians, environmental activists or other non-conformists, the fall of the Wall and the end of the GDR most often brought relief: the Western set-up allowed for greater freedom of expression and greater freedom of movement.

berlin wall juggling
Juggling on the Berlin Wall, by Yann Forget. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

For the majority of East Germany though, this was not how they felt: since many say they had no idea of the extent to which the Stasi was intertwined with daily life, the end of the GDR did not bring with it a sense of relief. In fact, many East Germans felt that there were many things the West could learn from the GDR, and were resentful at the lack of openness to incorporating any East German policies or practices in the reunification process.

Leaving a Communist society behind and joining an existing Capitalist one brought concrete advantages for East Germans, but it simultaneously threw up a whole new set of challenges. For East Germans, unfamiliar cultural norms in reunited Germany, and also the absence of their usual way of life was profoundly unsettling. As one East German woman put it in a diary entry from December 1989:

“Everywhere is becoming like a foreign land. I have long wished to travel to foreign parts, but I have always wanted to be able to come home … The landscapes remain the same, the towns and villages have the same names, but everything here is becoming increasingly unfamiliar.”

This view was echoed my many East Germans, who were conscious that they, for example, dressed differently from their Western compatriots, didn’t know how to pronounce items on the McDonalds menu when they were ordering and didn’t know how to work coin-operated supermarket trolleys in the West. With the fall of the Wall, a whole way of life evaporated. The certainties on which day to day routines had been built ceased to exist.

Swapping Communism for Capitalism has prompted diverse reactions from East Germans. Few would wish to return to the GDR, even if it were possible. However while many delight in having greater individual choice about what they eat, where they go, what they do and what they say, they often also have a wistful nostalgia for life before reunification, where the disparity between rich and poor was smaller and the solidarity between citizens seemed to be greater.

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10. College Arts Association 2015 Annual Meeting Conference Guide

The Oxford University Press staff is happy that the College Arts Association 2015 Annual Conference (11-14 February 2015) will be held in our backyard: New York City! So we gathered together to discuss what we’re interested in seeing at this year’s conference, as well as some suggestions for those visiting our city.

Alodie Larson, Editorial:
I look forward to CAA. I love having the opportunity to meet authors, see old friends, and get together with the outstanding group of scholars who make up the Editorial Board for Grove Art. The years that New York hosts CAA are low-key for me, as I don’t need to travel. 

I recommend heading to MoMA to hold meetings over coffee and snacks in their cafes. If you need a break from the din of the conference and/or architectural inspiration, slip over to Cram and Goodhue’s beautiful St. Thomas Church 5th Avenue for a moment of quiet reflection.

Joy Mizan, Marketing:
This will be my first time attending CAA with OUP. I’m excited to help set up our booth and display our latest books and online products in Art, but I’m really excited to meet our authors, board members, and academics to learn more about their interest in Art. (It’s always great to meet in person after only interacting over email or the phone.)

Need a place to eat? There’s a great food cart called Platters right outside the hotel, so I definitely suggest attendees try it out while in NYC. It opens at 7:00 p.m. though!

Sarah Pirovitz, Editorial:
I’m thrilled to be attending CAA this year as an acquiring editor for monographs and trade titles. I look forward to hearing about interesting new projects and connecting with scholars and friends in the field.

Mohamed Sesay, Marketing:
I’m delighted to attend my first CAA conference with Oxford University Press. This conference will be a great opportunity to meet authors in person, and to get to know some of our Art consumers.

If you’re looking for a great place to eat in New York City I suggest Landmarc in Columbus Circle. The restaurant has great food and it’s right next to Central Park.

Here are just a few of the sessions that caught our eyes:

  • The Trends in Art Book Publishing, on 10 February at 6:00 p.m. in the New York Public Library, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, South Court Auditorium (Yes, we work in publishing!)
  • Original Copies: Art and the Practice of Copying, on 11 February at 9:30 a.m. in the Hilton New York, 2nd Floor, Sutton Parlor South
  • Building a Multiracial American Past (Association for Critical Race Art History), on 11 February at 12:30 p.m. in the Hilton New York, 2nd Floor, Sutton Parlor Center
  • Making Sense of Digital Images Workshop, on 11 February at 2:30 p.m.
  • CAA Convocation and Awards Presentation, including Dave Hickey’s Keynote Address, on 11 February at 5:30 p.m. in the Hilton New York, 3rd Floor, East Ballroom
  • Chelsea Gallery District Walking Tour, on 12 February at 12:00 p.m.
  • Presenting a Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts (CAA Committee on Intellectual Property), on 13 February at 12:30 p.m.
  • New York 1880: Art, Architecture, and the Establishment of a Cultural Capital on 13 February at 2:30 p.m. in the Hilton New York, 2nd Floor, Beekman Parlor
  • Art Lovers and Literaturewallahs: Communities of Image and Text in South and Southeast Asia (American Council for Southern Asian Art), on 14 February at 9:30 am in the Hilton New York, 3rd Floor, Rendezvous Trianon
  • The Encyclopedia of Aesthetics, 2nd Edition (Oxford University Press – that’s us!) on 14 February at 12:30 p.m. in the Hilton New York, 2nd Floor, Sutton Parlor Center

Of course, we hope to see you at Oxford University Press booth 1215. We’ll be offering the chance to:

  • Check out which books we’re featuring.
  • Browse and buy our new and bestselling titles on display at a 20% conference discount.
  • Get free trial access to our suite of online products.
  • Pick up sample copies of our latest art journals.
  • Enter our raffle for free OUP books.
  • Meet all of us!

And don’t forget to learn more about the conference on the official website, or follow along on social media with the #CAA2015 hashtag.

Featured Image: Reflection / Kolonihavehus by Tom Fruin and CoreAct @ DUMBO Arts Festival, Brooklyn Bridge Park, NYC by Axel Taferner. CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0 via Flickr.

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11. Does the MOOC spell the end for universities?

The seemingly unassailable rise of the MOOC – the Massive Open On-Line Course – has many universities worried. Offering access to millions of potential students, it seems like the solution to so many of the problems that beset higher education. Fees are low, or even non-existent; anyone can sign up; staff time is strictly limited as even grading is done by peers or automated multiple-choice questionnaires. In an era of ever-rising tuition fees and of concerns about the barriers that stop the less well-off from applying to good universities, the MOOC can seem like a panacea.

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12. The two faces of Leo Tolstoy

Imagine that your local pub had a weekly, book themed quiz, consisting of questions like this: ‘Which writer concerned himself with religious toleration, explored vegetarianism, was fascinated (and sometimes repelled by) sexuality, and fretted over widening social inequalities, experienced urban poverty first hand while at the same time understanding the causes of man made famine?’

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13. Visualizing same-sex desire

History is surfeited with examples of the interactions between society and individual sexuality. Same-sex desire in particular has been, up until the present moment, a topic largely shrouded in shame, secrecy, and silence. As a result, it is often visualized through the image of 'the closet,' conveying notions of entrapment, protection, and liberation. Dominic Janes, author of Picturing the Closet: Male Secrecy and Homosexual Visibility in Britain, recently sat down with us to talk about visualization of same-sex desire in eighteenth-century Britain to the present.

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14. How I stopped worrying and learned to love concrete

Every campus has one, and sometimes more than more: the often unlovely and usually unloved concrete building put up at some point in the 1960s. Generally neglected and occasionally even unfinished, with steel reinforcing rods still poking out of it, the sixties building might be a hall of residence or a laboratory, a library or lecture room. It rarely features in prospectuses and is never – never ever – used to house the vice chancellor’s office.

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15. Characters of the Odyssey in Ancient Art

Every Ancient Greek knew their names: Odysseus, Penelope, Telemachas, Nestor, Helen, Menelaos, Ajax, Kalypso, Nausicaä, Polyphemos, Ailos… The trials and tribulations of these characters occupied the Greek mind so much that they found their way into ancient art, whether mosaics or ceramics, mirrors or sculpture. From heroic nudity to small visual cues in clothing, we present a brief slideshow of characters that appear in Barry B. Powell’s new free verse translation of The Odyssey.



Barry B. Powell is Halls-Bascom Professor of Classics Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. His new free verse translation of The Odyssey was published by Oxford University Press in 2014. His translation of The Iliad was published by Oxford University Press in 2013. See previous blog posts from Barry B. Powell.

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16. Contested sites on India’s Deccan Plateau

By Richard M. Eaton and Phillip B Wagoner


Power and memory combined to produce the Deccan Plateau’s built landscape. Beyond the region’s capital cities, such as Bijapur, Vijayanagara, or Golconda, the culture of smaller, fortified strongholds both on the plains and in the hills provides a fascinating insight into its history. These smaller centers saw very high levels of conflict between 1300 and 1600, especially during the turbulent sixteenth century when gunpowder technology had become widespread in the region. Below is a selection of images of architecture and monuments, examined through a mix of methodologies (history, art history, and archaeology), taken from our new book Power, Memory, and Architecture: Contested Sites on India’s Deccan Plateau, 1300-1600.



Richard M. Eaton is Professor of History at the University of Arizona, Tucson. Phillip B. Wagoner is Professor of Art History at Wesleyan University. They are authors of Power, Memory, Architecture: Contested Sites on India’s Deccan Plateau, 1300-1600.

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17. The Fair Toxophilities and Daniel Deronda

By K. M. Newton


The painting The Fair Toxophilites: English Archers by W. P. Frith, dating from 1872, is one of a series representing contemporary life in England. Frith wrote that his”

“desire to discover materials for my work in modern life never leaves me … and, though I have occasionally been betrayed by my love into themes somewhat trifling and commonplace, the conviction that possessed me that I was speaking – or rather painting – the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, rendered the production of real-life pictures an unmixed delight. In obedience to this impulse I began work on a small work suggested by some lady-archers, whose feats had amused me at the seaside … The subject was trifling, and totally devoid of character interest; but the girls are true to nature, and the dresses will be a record of the female habiliments of the time.”

After Gwendolen Harleth’s encounter with Daniel Deronda in Leubronn in Chapters 1 and 2, there’s a flashback to Gwendolen’s life in the year leading up to that meeting, with Chapters 9 to 11 focusing on the Archery Meeting, where she first meets Henleigh Grandcourt, and its consequences. In the England of the past archery was the basis of military and political power, most famously enabling the English to defeat the French at Agincourt. In the later nineteenth century it is now a leisure pursuit for upper-class women. This may be seen as symptomatic of the decline or even decadence of the upper class since it is now associated with an activity which Frith suggests is “trifling and commonplace.” A related symptom of that decline is the devotion of aristocratic and upper-class men, such as Grandcourt and Sir Hugo Mallinger, to a life centred on hunting and shooting.

The Fair Toxophilites

The Frith painting shows a young female archer wearing a fashionable and no doubt extremely expensive dress and matching hat. This fits well with the novel for Gwendolen takes great care in her choice of a dress that will enhance her striking figure and make her stand out at the Archery Meeting, since “every one present must gaze at her” (p.  89), especially Grandcourt. The reader may similarly be inclined to gaze at the figure in the painting. One might say that together with her bow and arrow Gwendolen dresses to kill, an appropriate expression for arrows can kill though in her case she wishes only to kill Grandcourt metaphorically: “My arrow will pierce him before he has time for thought” (p. 78). Readers of the novel will discover that light-hearted thoughts about killing Grandcourt will take a more serious turn later.

With the coming of Grandcourt into the Wancester neighbourhood through renting Diplow Hall, the thoughts of young women and especially their mothers turn to thoughts of marriage – there is obvious literary allusion to the plot of Pride and Prejudice in which Mr Bingley’s renting of Netherfield Park creates a similar effect. The Archery Meeting is the counterpart to the ball in Pride and Prejudice since it is an opportunity for women to display themselves to the male gaze in order to attract eligible husbands and no man is more eligible than Grandcourt. Whereas Mr Darcy eventually turns out to be the perfect gentleman, in Eliot’s darker vision Grandcourt has degenerated into a sadist, “a remnant of a human being” (p. 340), as Deronda calls him. Though Gwendolen is contemptuous of the Archery Meeting as marriage-market, she cannot help being drawn into it as she believes at this point that ultimately a woman of her class, background, and upbringing has no viable alternative to marriage.

While Grandcourt’s moving into Diplow Hall together with his likely attendance of the Archery Meeting become the central talking points of the neighbourhood among Gwendolen and her circle, the narrator casually mentions another matter that is being ignored – “the results of the American war” (p. 74). Victory for the North in the Civil War established the United States as a single nation, one which would ultimately become a great power. There is a similar passing reference later to the Prussian victory over the Austrians at “the world-changing battle of Sadowa” (p. 523), a major step towards the emergence of a unified German nation. While the English upper class are living trivial lives the world is changing around them and Britain’s time as the dominant world power may be ending.

Though the eponymous Deronda does not feature in this part of the novel, he is in implicit contrast to Gwendolen and the upper-class characters as he is preoccupied with these larger issues and uninvolved in trivial activities like archery or hunting and finally commits himself to the ideal of creating a political identity for the Jews. When he tells Gwendolen near the end of the novel of his plans, she is at first uncomprehending but is forced to confront the existence and significance of great events that she previously had ignored through being preoccupied with such “trifling” matters as making an impression at the Archery Meeting: “… she felt herself reduced to a mere speck. There comes a terrible moment to many souls when the great movements of the world, the larger destinies of mankind … enter like an earthquake into their own lives — when the slow urgency of growing generations turns into the tread of an invading army or the dire clash of civil war” (p. 677). She will no longer be oblivious of something like “the American war.” By the end of the novel the reader looking at the painting on the front cover may realize that though this woman who resembles Gwendolen remains trapped in triviality and superficiality, the character created in the mind of the reader by the words of the novel has moved on from that image and undergone a fundamental alteration in consciousness.

 K. M. Newton is Professor Emeritus at the University of Dundee. He is the editor, with Graham Handley, of the new Oxford World’s Classics edition of Daniel Deronda by George Eliot.

For over 100 years Oxford World’s Classics has made available the broadest spectrum of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford’s commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, voluminous notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more. You can follow Oxford World’s Classics on Twitter, Facebook, or here on the OUPblog. Subscribe to only Oxford World’s Classics articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS.

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Image credit: The Fair Toxophilites by W. P. Frith. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

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18. Remembering 100 years: Fashion and the outbreak of the Great War

In August 2014 the world marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War.

A time of great upheaval for countless aspects of society, social, economic and sexual to name a few, the onset of war punctured the sartorial mold of the early 20th century and resulted in perhaps one of the biggest strides to clothing reform that women had ever seen.

The turn of the century began with a feeling of unease and fevered anticipation regarding the changing political climate; the ‘new woman’ of the fin-de-siècle and the clothes associated with her threatened to disrupt conservative gender values of the middle and upper classes. But the position of women was about to take an even sharper turn. As it soon became necessary to recruit women into the war effort, hemlines got shorter, cuts became looser, and the two-piece suit took centre stage for the first time, making way for more practical attire. Women experienced a relative degree of liberation, entering professions and industries previously dominated by men, which created the need for an entirely new ‘working wardrobe’.

Official Yeowoman’s Costume of the US Navy 1101 Delineator, November 1918. Commercial Pattern Archive, University of Rhode Island.
Official Yeowoman’s Costume of the US Navy 1101 Delineator, November 1918. Commercial Pattern Archive, University of Rhode Island. Joy Emery explores the development of US service uniforms and the introduction of women’s trousers during the First World War in her authoritative A History of the Paper Pattern Industry (Bloomsbury, 2014).

Permeating mainstream and avant-garde fashion and fuelling the rise of the female’s role in the public sphere, fashion was about to move in a new, androgynous direction. Practical clothing influenced by men’s tailoring led the way and the suit, newly composed of jackets and skirts, developed its own identity as a women’s garment with soft, loose lines. In the world of high fashion, Paul Poiret and his taste for the ‘exotic’ firmly established the innovative trend for the tube-like silhouette, which reverberated throughout the fashion sphere more broadly. The kimono similarly burst onto the scene, reflecting the sentiment for looser and freer garments. Also, perhaps less well-remarked is the rapid development of the department store in Europe, which acknowledged the increasingly varied roles of women and made ready-made garments more available than ever before.

The changes were not only evident in Britain. Relationships between Germany and the French houses that dominated the fashion scene became increasingly fraught at the outbreak of war. As Irene Guenther remarks in Nazi Chic?, “the war was viewed as providing the perfect opportunity to unseat France, militarily and sartorially, from its throne. Because the conflict had slowed down the French fashion machine, a space had developed that the German nation was eager and ready to fill.” Luxury items imported from France, including silk, lace, and leather gloves were forbidden and a culture of “make do and mend” was established, which was set to echo throughout the Second World War that was to follow.

The Great War and its disruptions, dislocations, and recastings is rarely remembered for its creative output, but the war made way for innovative fashions and manufacturing techniques to suit a rapidly changing society and the new roles for the women and men who inhabited it. The sartorial changes witnessed in this turbulent decade became visual signifiers of the larger upheavals facing British and European society more generally, and we only have to look to our sartorial history from this period to sneak a peek at the way in which societal roles were uprooted and the face of women’s fashion markedly changed.

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19. Dispatches from the Front: German Feldpostkarten in World War I

In the first autumn of World War I, a German infantryman from the 25th Reserve Division sent this pithy greeting to his children in Schwarzenberg, Saxony.

11 November 1914
My dear little children!
How are you doing? Listen to your mother and grandmother and mind your manners.
Heartfelt greetings to all of you!
Your loving Papa

He scrawled the message in looping script on the back of a Feldpostkarte, or field postcard, one that had been designed for the Bahlsen cookie company by the German artist and illustrator Änne Koken. On the front side of the postcard, four smiling German soldiers share a box of Leibniz butter cookies as they stand on a grassy, sun-stippled outpost. The warm yellow pigment of the rectangular sweets seems to emanate from the opened care package, flushing the cheeks of the assembled soldiers with a rosy tint.

Änne Koken, color lithographic postcard (Feldpostkarte) designed for the H. Bahlsen Keksfabrik, Hannover, ca. November 1914. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Änne Koken, color lithographic postcard (Feldpostkarte) designed for the H. Bahlsen Keksfabrik, Hannover, ca. November 1914. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

German citizens posted an average of nearly 10 million pieces of mail to the front during each day of World War I, and German service members sent over 6 million pieces in return; postcards comprised well over half of these items of correspondence. For active duty soldiers, postage was free of charge. Postcards thus formed a central and a portable component of wartime visual culture, a network of images in which patriotic, sentimental, and nationalistic postcards formed the dominant narrative — with key moments of resistance dispatched from artists and amateurs serving at the front.

The first postcards were permitted by the Austrian postal service in 1869 and in Germany one year later. (The Post Office Act of 1870 allowed for the first postcards to be sold in Great Britain; the United States followed suit in 1873.) Over the next four decades, Germany emerged as a leader in the design and printing of colorful picture postcards, which ranged from picturesque landscapes to tinted photographs of famous monuments and landmarks. Many of the earliest propaganda postcards, at the turn of the twentieth century, reproduced cartoons and caricatures from popular German humor magazines such as Simplicissimus, a politically progressive journal that moved toward an increasingly reactionary position during and after World War I. Indeed, the majority of postcards produced and exchanged between 1914 and 1918 adopted a sentimental style that matched the so-called “hurrah kitsch” of German official propaganda.

Walter Georgi, Engineers Building a Bridge, 1915. Color lithographic postcard (Feldpostkarte) designed for the H. Bahlsen Keksfabrik, Hannover. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Walter Georgi, Engineers Building a Bridge, 1915. Color lithographic postcard (Feldpostkarte) designed for the H. Bahlsen Keksfabrik, Hannover. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Beginning in 1914, the German artist and Karlsruhe Academy professor Walter Georgi produced 24 patriotic Feldpostkarten for the Bahlsen cookie company in Hannover. In a postcard titled Engineers Building a Bridge (1915), a pair of strong-armed sappers set to work on a wooden trestle while a packet of Leibniz butter cookies dangle conspicuously alongside their work boots.

These engineering troops prepared the German military for the more static form of combat that followed the “Race to the Sea” in the fall of 1914; they dug and fortified trenches and bunkers, built bridges, and developed and tested new weapons — from mines and hand grenades to flamethrowers and, eventually, poison gas.

Georgi’s postcard designs for the Bahlsen company deploy the elegant color lithography he had practiced as a frequent contributor to the Munich Art Nouveau journal Jugend (see Die Scholle).In another Bahlsen postcard titled “Hold Out in the Roaring Storm” (1914), Georgi depicted a group of soldiers wearing the distinctive spiked helmets of the Prussian Army. Their leader calls out to his comrades with an open mouth, a rifle slung over his shoulder, and a square package of Leibniz Keks looped through his pinkie finger. In a curious touch that is typical of First World War German patriotic postcards, both the long-barreled rifles and the soldier’s helmets are festooned with puffy pink and carmine flowers.

These lavishly illustrated field postcards, designed by artists and produced for private industry, could be purchased throughout Germany and mailed, traded, or collected in albums to express solidarity with loved ones in active duty. The German government also issued non-pictorial Feldpostkarten to its soldiers as an alternate and officially sanctioned means of communication. For artists serving at the front, these 4” x 6” blank cards provided a cheap and ready testing ground at a time when sketchbooks and other materials were in short supply. The German painter Otto Schubert dispatched scores of elegant watercolor sketches from sites along the Western Front; Otto Dix, likewise, sent hundreds of illustrated field postcards to Helene Jakob, the Dresden telephone operator he referred to as his “like-minded companion,” between June 1915 and September 1918. These sketches (see Rüdiger, Ulrike, ed. Grüsse aus dem Krieg: die Feldpostkarten der Otto-Dix-Sammlung in der Kunstgalerie Gera, Kunstgalerie Gera 1991) convey details both minute and panoramic, from the crowded trenches to the ruined fields and landmarks of France and Belgium. Often, their flip sides contain short greetings or cryptic lines of poetry written in both German and Esperanto.

Dix enlisted for service in 1914 and saw front line action during the Battle of the Somme, in August 1916, one of the largest and costliest offensives of World War I that spanned nearly five months and resulted in casualties numbering more than one million. By September of 1918, the artist had been promoted to staff sergeant and was recovering from injuries at a field hospital near the Western Front. He sent one of his final postcard greetings to Helene Jakob on the reverse side of a self-portrait photograph, in which he stands with visibly bandaged legs and one hand resting on his hip. Dix begins the greeting in Esperanto, but quickly shifts to German to report on his condition: “I’ve been released from the hospital but remain here until the 28th on a course of duty. I’m sending you a photograph, though not an especially good one. Heartfelt greetings, your Dix.” Just two months later, the First World War ended in German defeat.

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20. A Woman’s Iliad?

Browsing my parents’ bookshelves recently, in the dog days that followed sending Anna Karenina off to press, I found myself staring at a row of small hardback volumes all the same size. One in particular, with the words Romola and George Eliot embossed in gold on the dark green spine, caught my attention. It was an Oxford World’s Classics pocket edition – a present to my grandmother from her younger sister, who wrote an affectionate inscription in curling black ink (“with Best Love to Dellie on her 20th birthday from Mabel, July 3rd 1917”), and forgot to rub out the price of 1 shilling and 3 pence pencilled inside the front cover. Inside the back cover, meanwhile, towards the bottom of a long list of World’s Classics titles, my heart missed a beat when I espied “Tolstoy, Anna Karenina: in preparation”: Louise and Aylmer Maude’s translation was first published only in 1918.

As I drove homethat night with Romola in my bag, I thought about my grandmother reading Eliot’s novel (unusually set in Florence during the Renaissance, rather than in 19th-century England), and I also thought about the seismic changes taking place in Russia at the time of her birthday in 1917. I wondered whether she was given the new Oxford World’s Classics edition of Anna Karenina for her 21st birthday, and was disappointed on a later visit to my parents to be presented with her copy of Nathan Haskell Dole’s pioneering but wholly inadequate translation, reprinted in the inexpensive Nelson Classics series. I pictured my grandmother struggling with sentences such as those describing Anna’s hostile engagement with her husband. After Karenin has begun upbraiding Anna for consorting too openly with Vronsky at the beginning of the novel (Part 2, chapter 9), we read, for example: ‘“Nu-s! I hear you,” she said, in a calm tone of banter’. The Maudes later translated this sentence into English (“Well, I’m listening! What next?” said she quietly and mockingly”), but they also changed Tolstoy’s punctuation, and the sarcastically deferential tone of Anna’s voice (Nu-s, ya slushayu, chto budet, – progovorila ona spokoino i nasmeshlivo – “Well, I’m ready to hear what is next,” she said coolly and derisively”).

Back in 1917, Oxford Word’s Classics “pocket editions” featured a line-drawn portrait of the author, but no other illustration. These days, nearly every edition of Anna Karenina has a picture of a woman on the cover, even if Tolstoy’s bearded face is absent opposite the title page. More often than not it will be a Russian woman, painted by a Russian artist, and while we know this is not Anna, it is as if the limits of our imagination are somehow curbed before we even start reading. The dust-jacket for the new hardback Oxford World’s Classics edition of Anna Karenina reproduces Sir John Everett Millais’ portrait of Louise Jopling. The fact that this is an English painting of an English woman already mitigates against identifying her too closely with Anna, but this particular portrait is an inspired choice for other reasons, as I began to understand when I researched its history. To begin with, it was painted in 1879, just one year after Anna Karenina was first published as a complete novel. And the meticulous notes compiled by Vladimir Nabokov which anchor the events of the narrative between 1872 and 1876 also enable us to infer that the fictional Anna Karenina was about the same age as the real-life Louise Jopling, who was 36 when she sat for Millais. Their very different life paths, meanwhile, throw an interesting light on the theme at the centre of Tolstoy’s novel: the predicament of women.

Louise Jane Jopling (née Goode, later Rowe), by Sir John Everett Millais. National Portrait Gallery, London: NPG 6612. Wikimedia Commons
Louise Jane Jopling (née Goode, later Rowe), by Sir John Everett Millais. National Portrait Gallery, London: NPG 6612. Wikimedia Commons

Louise Jopling was one of the nine children born into the family of a railway contractor in Manchester in 1843. After getting married for the first time in 1861 at the age of 17 to Frank Romer, who was secretary to Baron Nathaniel de Rothschild, she studied painting in Paris, but returned to London at the end of the decade when her husband was fired. By 1874, her first husband (a compulsive gambler) and two of her three children were dead, she had married for the second time, to the watercolour painter Joseph Jopling, exhibited at the Royal Academy, and become a fixture in London’s artistic life. To enjoy any kind of success as a female painter at that time in Victorian Britain was an achievement, but even more remarkable was Louise Jopling’s lifelong campaign to improve women’s rights. She founded a professional art school for women in 1887, was a vigorous supporter of women’s suffrage, won voting rights for women at the Royal Society of Portrait Painters after being elected, fought for women to be able to paint from nude models, and became the first woman member of the Royal Society of British Artists in 1902. None of these doors were open to Anna Karenina as a member of St. Petersburg high society, although we learn in the course of the novel that she has a keen artistic sense, is a discerning reader, writes children’s fiction, and has a serious interest in education. Tolstoy’s wife Sofya similarly was never given the opportunity to fulfil her potential as a writer, photographer, and painter.

Louise Jopling was a beautiful woman, as is immediately apparent from Millais’ portrait. In her memoirs she describes posing for him in a carefully chosen embroidered black gown made in Paris, and consciously donning a charming and typically feminine expression to match. On the third day she came to sit for Millais, however, the two friends chanced to talk about something which made her feel indignant, and she forgot to wear her “designedly beautiful expression”. What was finally fixed in the portrait was a defiant and “rather hard” look, which, as she acknowledges, ultimately endowed her face with greater character. This peculiar combination of beauty and defiance is perhaps what most recalls the character of Anna Karenina, who in Part 5 of the novel confronts social prejudice and hypocrisy head-on by daring to attend the Imperial Opera in the full glare of the high society grandes dames who have rejected her.

Louise Jopling’s concern with how she is represented in her portrait, as a professional artist in her own right, as a painter’s model, and as a woman, also speaks to Tolstoy’s detailed exploration of the commodification and objectification of women in society and in art (as discussed by Amy Mandelker in her important study Framing Anna Karenina). It is for this reason that we encounter women in a variety of different situations (ranging from the unhappily married Anna, to the betrayed and careworn housewife Dolly, the young bride Kitty, the unmarried companion Varenka, and the former prostitute Marya), and three separate portraits of the heroine, seen from different points of view. Ernest Rhys interestingly compares Anna Karenina to “a woman’s Iliad” in his introduction to the 1914 Everyman’s Library edition of the novel. Another kind of woman’s Iliad could also be woven from the differing stories of some of Tolstoy’s intrepid early translators, amongst them Clara Bell, Isabel Hapgood, Rochelle S. Townsend, Constance Garnett, Louise Maude, Rosemary Edmonds, and Ann Dunnigan, to whom we owe a debt for paving the way.

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21. The ubiquity of structure

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Everything in the natural world has structure – from the very small, like the carbon 60 molecule, to the very large such as mountains and indeed the whole Universe. Structure is the connecting of parts to make a whole – and it occurs at many different levels. Atoms have structure. Structures of atoms make molecules, structures of molecules make tissue and materials, structures of materials make organs and equipment and so on up a hierarchy of different levels as shown in the figure. Within this hierarchy of structure, man-made objects vary from the very small, like a silicon chip to the very large like a jumbo jet. Whereas natural structures have evolved over aeons, man-made structures have to be imagined, designed and built though our own efforts.

Many people, including much of the media, attribute this activity solely to architects. This is unfortunate because architects rely on engineers. Of course the responsibilities are close – it is a team effort. Architecture is the devising, designing, planning and supervising the making of something. Engineering is the turning of an idea into a reality – it is about conceiving, designing, constructing operating and eventually decommissioning something to fulfil a human need. The fact is that engineers play a critical creative role in making structural forms that function as required. They should be given at least equal credit.

Your personal structure is your bones and muscles – they give you form and shape and they function for you as well – for example bone marrow produces blood cells as well as lymphocytes to support your immune system. Your musculoskeletal system also includes all of your connecting tissue such as joints, ligaments and tendons which help you move around. On it are hung all of your other bits and pieces, such as your heart, brain, liver etc. Without structure you would just be a blob of jelly – structure supports who you are and how you function.

In a similar way the structure of a typical man-made structure, like a building, will have beams and columns together with all of the connecting material such as joints, slabs, welds and bolts which keep it together. On it are hung all of the other parts of the building such as the equipment for heating, lighting, communication and all of the furniture, fixtures and fittings. Without structure a building would just be a random pile of components – the function of structure is to support all the other functions of the building.

09Garabit
Garabit Bridge built by Eiffel in France. Photograph by David Blockley.

We can think of the form of a structure from two different points of view – I’ll call them architectural and functional. If you were a building, then the architect would decide your gender, what you look like, your body shape and appearance. However the architect would not decide what is necessary to make the various parts of your body function as they should – that is the job of various kinds of engineer. In other words the architectural form concerns the sense and use of space, functional occupancy by people, symbolism and relationship to setting. It can be decorative and sculptural. The role of an architect is to understand and fulfil the needs of a client for the ways in which a building is to be used and how it will look – its overall form, appearance and aesthetic effect. But the architects who design buildings are not engineers and rarely have the level of scientific knowledge required of professionally qualified engineers. So for example structural engineers must design a structural form that has the function of making a building stand up safely. Indeed engineering safety dominates the design of large structures such as sky-scrapers, bridges, sports stadia, dams, off-shore platforms, fairground rides, ships and aeroplanes.

So what happens when the best architectural form and the best structural form are different – which takes precedence?

Safety and functionality are important necessary requirements – but of course they aren’t sufficient. We need more than that and herein lies the issue. Functionality is often taken for granted, assumed and dismissed as not needing an artistic, creative input – requiring ‘mere’ technique and ‘known’ science. But that is a misreading of being innovative and creative – engineers often do breathtaking complex things that have never been done before. Scientific knowledge is necessary but not sufficient for inspirational engineering – many assumptions and assessments have to be made and there is no such thing as zero risk. Engineering requires practical wisdom.

Some argue that form should follow function – another way of saying that the ends determine the means. However the original meaning, by the American architect Louis Sullivan in 1896, was an expression of a natural law. He wrote ‘Whether it be the sweeping eagle in his flight or the open apple-blossom, the toiling work horse … form ever follows function, and this is the law …

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (London 2012 Velodrome Uploaded by Flickrworker) [CC-BY-SA-2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

The philosopher Ervin Laszlo pointed out the difference between form and function does not exist in natural structures. So nature shows us the way. Form and function should be in harmony. We should recognize that good architecture and good engineering are both an art requiring science – but aimed at different purposes. Their historical separation is unfortunate. If an architect specifies a structural form which (whether for artistic/aesthetic reasons or through incompetence) is unbuildable or unnecessarily expensive to build then the final outcome will be poor. The best and most successful projects are where the architects and engineers work together right from the start and given equal credit. At the most mundane level good structural design can leverage orders of magnitudes of savings in costs of construction.

Michel Virlogeux, the French structural engineer responsible for a number of big bridges including the Millau Viaduct in France, says that we design beautiful bridges when the flow of forces is logical. A good architect welcomes the engineering technical discipline to create form through structural art and intelligence and a good engineer welcomes architectural conceptual discipline to create form through aesthetic art and intelligence.

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22. What good is photography?

We’re bombarded with images today as never before. Whether you’re an avid mealtime Instagrammer, snapchatting your risqué images, being photobombed by your pets, capturing appealing colour schemes for your Pinterest moodboard, or simply contributing to the 250,000 or so images added to Facebook every minute, chances are you have a camera about your person most of the time, and use it almost without thinking to document your day.

Images have great social currency online, keeping visitors on a page longer, and increasing the shareability of your content. The old adage that “a picture’s worth a thousand words” comes into its own in an environment where we’re all bombarded with more information than we can consume, where there’s a constant downward pressure on your wordcount, and where you need to be eye-catching and tell a story within 140 characters or fewer. Lives have been changed, public opinion shifted, history made by a single picture. Think of an iconic image, and odds are that many spring straight to your mind, from the powerful – Kim Phuc running from a napalm attack in Vietnam, ‘Tank Man’ facing down the military in Tiananmen Square – to the stage-managed – those construction workers lunching on a skyscraper beam above Manhattan or Doisneau’s ‘Kiss by the Hotel du Ville’ — and many more.

From Reflexionen Eins. © 2014 Matthew Heiderich. All rights reserved.
From Reflexionen Eins. © 2014 Matthew Heiderich. All rights reserved.

Consider just the last few weeks: the violent protests following the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, encapsulated in a single image of heavily armed policemen training their weapons on a lone man with his hands in the air; the images pouring out of Gaza, so at odds with the formal tweets of the IDF; or American photojournalist James Foley – a man who dedicated his life to ensuring such images streamed into our front rooms, into our news feeds, into our consciousness – kneeling next to the man who was about to become his killer. Wherever time and space are at a premium, wherever narrative matters, an image gets the story across in the most direct and powerful way.

Here in Oxford, a new international photography festival seeks to look at just these questions around the power and the purpose of photography, opening up debate about the many issues which surround it in the current climate, aiming to bring world-class work to a new audience and to elevate awareness and appreciation of the form to a level long-since enjoyed by painting, sculpture, and the other visual arts. On Sunday 14 September, colleges, museums, art galleries, and even a giant safe, will welcome visitors into more than 20 free exhibitions showing the work of internationally-renowned photographers, alongside a film programme mixing documentaries and feature films which have images and their use at heart, and a series of talks and panel discussions.

The exhibitions range widely, from powerful photojournalism such as Laura El-Tantawy’s images of a post-Mubarak Egypt, Robin Hammond’s work inside Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, and the Document Scotland collective’s recording of this truly decisive moment in Scottish history, to Yann Layma’s stunning macros of butterfly wings and Mark Laita’s vibrant images of brightly-coloured snakes; from Susanna Majuri’s elaborate photographic fictions, hovering somewhere between dream and reality, to the vibrant architectural images of Matthias Heiderich; and from Mariana Cook’s portrait series of those who risk their lives for justice to Paddy Summerfield’s moving documentation of the final years of his parents’ 60-year marriage. The UK debut of this year’s World Press Photo award features prominently, alongside French photographer Bernard Plossu’s first-ever British show, and a showcase of work from members of the Helsinki school, including the eminent Pentti Sammallahti and Arno Minkkinen.

Mouth of the River Fosters Pond 2014. © Arno Minkkinen. All rights reserved.
Mouth of the River Fosters Pond 2014. © Arno Minkkinen. All rights reserved.

The festival brings us shows documenting the NGO use of images in campaigns across the decades, or looking at photos which trick us, whether deliberately or inadvertently; a moving exhibition on photography and healing; and one exploring how different artists use photography – digitally, printed on surfaces such as ceramics or metals, or using Victorian techniques. Yet other exhibitions feature powerful portraits of the famous buildings of Oxford and their custodians, of the descendants of some of the world’s most famous historical figures, and Vermeer-inspired portraits of female domesticity from Maisie Broadhead.

Meanwhile the talks and debates include the BBC’s David Shukman on photography and climate change, celebrated landscape photographer Charlie Waite talking about the challenges and joys of landscape photography, and Bodley’s Librarian Richard Ovenden chairing a discussion on Henry Fox Talbot. Panels cover the role of photojournalism in the Northern Ireland peace process, the role of the critic in photography, images and the business world, and the merits and challenges of shooting photographic stories in areas close to home rather than travelling to far flung exotic locations.

Red. © 2012 Susanna Majuri. All rights reserved.
Red. © 2012 Susanna Majuri. All rights reserved.

The festival will draw to a close on Sunday 5 October, with ‘The Tim Hetherington Debate: What Good is Photography’, looking at the importance of photography in the twenty-first century, and a screening of Sebastian Junger’s Which Way is the Front Line from Here, a documentary about the photographer and filmmaker Tim Hetherington, killed in 2011 by mortar fire in Misrata, Libya, where he had been covering the civil war.

As festival founder and director Robin Laurance, himself an acclaimed photojournalist, concludes: “It’s time to celebrate the city’s links with the beginnings of an art form that has become ever-present in all our lives. We intend Oxford to be the place where photography is not only celebrated, but where it is debated, examined and challenged. Our aim is to open people’s minds as well as their eyes to photography.”

 

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23. The divine colour blue

In Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Trinity, all three figures have blue in their clothing: a bright azure blue which stands out from the predominant warm golden yellows.

Commentaries on the icon refer to this as the blue of the sky, representing divinity. Investigating the correlation of blue with divinity takes us down some surprising and intriguing avenues.

In A Field Guide to Getting Lost, Rebecca Solnit discusses ‘the blue of distance’. As she explains, the sky is blue because light at the blue end of the spectrum is scattered by air molecules as it travels from the sun to us.

It is the ‘light that does not touch us, does not travel the whole distance, the light that gets lost’ which ‘gives us the beauty of the world, so much of which is in the color blue’. She continues:

For many years, I have been moved by the blue at the far edge of what can be seen, that color of horizons, of remote mountain ranges, of anything far away. The color of that distance is the color of an emotion, the color of solitude and of desire, the color of there seen from here, the color of where you are not. And the color of where you can never go.

Blue, therefore, would seem to be a particularly apt colour with which to represent divinity.

The association of divinity with blue goes back much further than Rublev and fifteenth century Russia.

Over a thousand years earlier, the fourth century monk Evagrius of Pontus (an intellectual who fled Constantinople for the solitude of the desert after falling in love with a married woman) wrote of prayer: ‘Prayer is a state of the mind that arises under the influence of the unique light of the Holy Trinity’ (Reflections 27).

Rublev
Rublev’s famous icon showing the three Angels being hosted by Abraham at Mamre. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

He specified the colour of that light:

When the mind has put off the old self and shall put on the one born of grace, then it will see its own state in the time of prayer resembling sapphire or the colour of heaven; this state scripture calls the place of God that was seen by the elders on Mount Sinai. (On Thoughts 39)

If someone should want to behold the state of his mind, let him deprive himself of all mental representations, and then he shall behold himself resembling sapphire or the colour of heaven. (Reflections 2)

The light of the Trinity, which suffuses the mind in the highest forms of prayer, is sapphire blue, the colour of heaven. Evagrius did not reach this conclusion as a result of abstract thought, but on the basis of a particular biblical verse: Exodus 24:10.

In the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (the Septuagint) with which he will have been familiar, it reads: ‘And they saw the place, there where the God of Israel stood, and that which was beneath his feet, like something made from sapphire brick and like the appearance of the firmament of heaven in purity.’

At this point in Exodus, the Ten Commandments have already been given, and Moses has been commanded to ascend Mount Sinai once more, along with Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of the elders.

In the Hebrew Bible they see the God of Israel; but the Greek translation is more circumspect, and there they only see the place where the God of Israel stands. Either way, beneath the feet of God is a pavement of sapphire blue.

Lapis Lazuli Beads
Lapis Lazuli Beads. Photo by cobalt123. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.

This ‘sapphire’ (Greek sappheiros, Hebrew sappir) is not the transparent gemstone, but lapis lazuli, a stone prized for its intense deep blue. The word ‘Lazuli’, along with the adjective ‘azure’, derives from the Persian name for the stone. Rublev will have used lapis lazuli as the pigment for his blue.

The Hebrew version of Exodus 24:10 says that lapis lazuli is ‘like the very heavens for clearness’. The stone often includes minute golden pyrite crystals, which shimmer like stars in the night sky.

The Greek translation brings in the word ‘firmament’, which sends us back to Genesis 1:6, where God says, ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters’. The firmament was imagined as a solid dome, separating the waters above (the heavens) from the waters below (the sea).

When the prophet Ezekiel has his terrifying vision of the heavenly chariot, he sees four angelic ‘living beings’ (with four faces, and four wings) carrying a crystalline firmament over their heads, upon which is a sapphire (i.e. lapis lazuli) throne.

On the throne is ‘the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord’ (Ezekiel 1:28). In other words, Ezekiel has a vision of God at three removes: a fiery being on a blue throne.

In the biblical descriptions of Genesis, Exodus and Ezekiel, physical and spiritual heavens are intertwined. The blue of the sky merges with the throne of God. Evagrius begins a process of interiorising these descriptions, just as Rebecca Solnit interiorises the physics of scattered blue light.

For Evagrius, Mount Sinai becomes a landmark in the geography of the soul. And the colour blue symbolises the internal state of the mind at prayer. An internal state no doubt Rublev aimed to foster with his use of divine azure blue.

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24. The history of Christian art and architecture

Although basilisks, griffins, and phoenixes summon ideas of myth and lore, they are three of several fantastic beings displayed in a Christian context. From the anti-Christian Roman emperor Diocletian to the legendary Knights of the Templar, a variety of unexpected subjects, movements, themes, and artists emerge in the history of Christian art and architecture. To get an idea of its scope, we mined The Oxford Dictionary of Christian Art and Architecture for information to test your knowledge.

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Headline image credit: St Peter’s facade. Photo by Livioandronico2013. CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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25. A conversation with Dr. Steven Nelson, Grove Art Online guest editor

Grove Art Online recently updated with new content on African art and architecture. We sat down with Dr. Steven Nelson, who supervised this update, to learn more about his background and the field of African art history.

Can you tell us a little about your background?

As an undergraduate at Yale, after flirting with theater, music, and sociology, I majored in studio art and focused on bookmaking, graphic design, printmaking, and photography. Majors were required to take three art history classes. By the end of my college career, I had taken eight and had seriously thought about changing my major. Within art history, I was most attracted to modern and Japanese art, and studying the two fields had profound effects on art making. After a six-year-long stint in newspaper design, I went to Harvard to pursue a Ph.D. in modern art. After coursework in myriad fields, serving on a search committee for a new faculty member in African art (the search resulted in the hiring Suzanne Preston Blier), and a trip to Kenya to study medieval Swahili architecture, I changed my field to African art. My dissertation is a study of Mousgoum architecture (one of the fields covered in Grove Art Online’s African update) in Cameroon. The thesis became my first book, entitled From Cameroon to Paris: Mousgoum Architecture In and Out of Africa (University of Chicago Press, 2007). Having been an artist has had a profound effect on how I encounter art objects and the built environment.

You recently served as editor for the Grove Art Online African art update. What was your favorite part about this experience?

My favorite part of serving as editor for the Grove Art Online African art update was the opportunity to have a widely used and respected resource as a platform to reassess and to reshape the canon of African art. More to the point, Grove provided a unique opportunity to rearticulate the field’s various methods, to acknowledge shifts in scholarly focus, and to expand the subjects we consider when hearing the very term “African art.” As someone who has served at various points as an editor, I also enjoyed working with authors to produce essays that are both rich in content and accessible to a broad audience. I’m also very pleased that the authors included in the update range from very eminent art historians to graduate students with whom I closely worked.

2048px--Igbo_and_His_People-_-_NARA_-_558801
Igbo and His People. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

What is your favorite work of art of all time, and why?

My favorite work of art of all time changes day-by-day. Right now Malick Sidibé’s party photographs of the 1960s, which explore a burgeoning, international youth culture in Bamako on the heels of independence, hold this title.

Which recently added African art article(s) stand out to you, and why?

While I am really happy with all of the new content, the material on African film and the essay on African modern art are particular importance for me. In African art history, broadly speaking, film has received very little attention (in full disclosure, I write on it myself). However, it is critical in understanding the complexity of modern and contemporary African art. The essay on modern African art is important in that it marks an important expansion of the field, one in which scholars are insisting on understanding modernity and how African artists engage with it with more nuance and precision.

How has your field changed in the past 20 years?

The past 20 years have witnessed a groundswell in studies of modern and contemporary African art. Alongside of this development, the past 20 years have also seen a lot of energy (for better or worse) spent on understanding the relationship between modern and contemporary and “traditional” or “classical” African art. On the one hand, some feel that the two should be considered as separate fields, with the former being a kind of offshoot of global contemporary art. On the other, some feel that the two can inform each other in exciting ways. Having done research on topics ranging from medieval Swahili architecture to contemporary art in Africa and its diasporas, I personally ascribe to the latter view. Methodologically, much has changed as well. Africanist art historians have become much more willing to incorporate poststructuralist and post-colonial scholarship into their studies, and the results have enriched how we understand the subjects of our endeavors. There has also been much welcome attention paid to the important intersections of African art and Islam as well as African art and Christianity.

How do you envision art history research being done in 20 years?

Digital humanities will no doubt have an enormous impact research on art history research. Digital tools allow for quick aggregation, and this can add rich dimensions to our research. One of the challenges, however, will be to see how — or if — the digital realm provides the means for new questions and new art historical knowledge. I helped facilitate a digital art history workshop at UCLA this past summer, and that question, one that really strikes at the place of the digital as we move forward, is one that I engage with both optimism and a healthy skepticism.

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