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In ancient times sculptures and buildings were painted and colorfully decorated maybe even with clothes and jewels, and sometimes made out of glowing bronze. What was the motive and, if any, the political driving force, behind replacing them with white unpainted sculptures and architectures sometime at the beginning of the renaissance?
Speculating out of the blue, I'd suspect that it has to do with the ruling power demonstrating more deterrence. Clean white is the bones of dead people. It should be instinctively frightening. Below a building of power, looking more than anything else like a deadskull with its colorless gaping openings and spread out bone pipes like in a public mass grave.
1) By the time wealthy western Europeans were embarking on grand tours of Greece and Italy and describing ancient Greek and Roman temples in writing and in paintings, the original paintwork had mostly all been weathered away. Imitation of this architectural style therefore omitted the decoration.
2) Protestant reformation. Frescoes and lavish decoration were removed from churches as signs of idolatry etc. Decorated walls in churches were typically over-painted white.
The neoclassical architecture of the US capitol building, pictured in the question, copies elements from classical Greek and Roman architecture - domes, colonnades, porticoes. It is designed to reflect the architect's admiration of the beauty and majesty of those ancient buildings, not to make local citizens feel afraid or oppressed.
The word "Capitol" comes from Latin and is associated with the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on Capitoline Hill, one of the seven hills of Rome.
In spring 1792, United States Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson proposed a design competition to solicit designs for the Capitol
A late entry by amateur architect William Thornton was submitted on January 31, 1793, to much praise for its "Grandeur, Simplicity, and Beauty" by Washington, along with praise from Thomas Jefferson.
The Library of Congress says
The published guidelines stipulated matters of fact -- size and number of rooms and materials -- not issues of taste, such as style of architecture, historical association, or symbolic meaning. Thus the competitors themselves proposed ideas of how to convey America's new political structure and social order. Their suggestions, ranging from simple to complex, economical to expensive, reflected commonly held beliefs about America's governing population -- primarily farmers and merchants -- or promoted benefits promised by the Constitution.
Most competitors drew upon Renaissance architectural models, either filtered through the lens of eighteenth-century English and American Georgian traditions or based directly on buildings illustrated in Renaissance treatises. The Capitol competition coincided with nascent Neoclassicism in America, in which forms and details from Greek and Roman architecture were revived. Three of the competition entries were inspired by ancient classical buildings.
There really is no evidence that neoclassical buildings were intended to resemble corpses or mass graves or to invoke feelings of fear. Instead they were intended to evoke admiration for their perceived beauty.
For a completely subjective answer to a completely subjective question, a quick google on the meaning of white:
White, an inherently positive color, is associated with purity, virginity, innocence, light, goodness, heaven, safety, brilliance, illumination, understanding, cleanliness, faith, beginnings, sterility, spirituality, possibility, humility, sincerity, protection, softness, and perfection
Your association of white with death didn't seem to make the list.
Renaissance Sculpture in Italy (c.1250-1530) History and Characteristics
St Peter's Basilica, Rome.
By Michelangelo. A perfect example
of restrained emotion in a work of
Christian art of the High Renaissance.
For the great historians of
Renaissance art, see:
Jacob Burckhardt (1818-97)
Bernard Berenson (1865-1959)
Kenneth Clark (1903-83)
Leo Steinberg (1920-2011)
Pre-Renaissance Sculpture (1250-1400)
In studying the art of sculpture in Italy during this period, it is important to remember that Renaissance sculptors had before their eyes tangible examples of classical Greek sculpture - the very work they admired - whereas painters had no examples of antique painting to refer to. While Giotto, for instance, had to construct his own 'foundations', the first important pre-Renaissance sculptor Nicola Pisano (c.1206-1278) already had foundations ready for him to build on.
These 'foundations' had been available throughout the Dark Ages and the era of Medieval sculpture. What is noteworthy about the sculpture of Nicola Pisano is that the classical prototypes from which it derives had, for all their availability for so many centuries, lost the power to stimulate the imagination of the medieval artists who saw them. The history of sculpture had never been inactive: plenty of Romanesque sculpture had been produced throughout the Middle Ages in Italy and the rest of Europe. What Nicola Pisano discovered was not the physical existence of a few ancient statues or monuments, but the fact that suddenly it had achieved a new significance. There could be no more remarkable proof of the dawn of Renaissance classicism than Nicola's first high relief carvings in the pulpit in the Baptistery at Pisa, completed six years before Giotto was born, or those in the pulpit of Siena Cathedral, carved while Giotto was in his cradle. There is no lack of technical accomplishment, nothing primitive or hesitant in his work. Beyond a slight tendency to an overcrowding of the forms, and, of course, the Christian subject matter, the carvings themselves might easily look to the casual eye like products of Imperial Rome. The Madonna of the Nativity is a Roman matron, the Magi are bearded Olympians. Nicola himself, one might guess, must have been a Roman Rip Van Winkle who had fallen into a coma in the days of Diocletian and having been awakened in the mid-thirteenth century, had instantly set to work in a style that had been dead for nearly a thousand years. Among his many pupils was the sculptor-architect Arnolfo di Cambio (1240) who created some exemplary tomb sculpture and designed Florence Cathedral.
Nicola's son, Giovanni Pisano (c.1250-1314), evolved a more vivid, a more restless, almost a more Gothic style than his father. Even so, it is in his work - especially on the pulpit in the Church of St Andrea in Pistoia, of 1298, and that at Pisa, finished in 1310 - that we begin to see the true Renaissance yeast at work. These are not trecento versions of Roman carving but attempts to give formal expression to the new spirit. On the Pistoia pulpit are Sibyls that have no Roman counterparts. Their gestures and attitudes are full of dramatic tension. They are troubled, nervous, anxious creatures, and it is from them that, two centuries later, Michelangelo was to extract the kind of meaning that he poured into the Sibyls in his Sistine Chapel frescoes. The Pisano dynasty's most important follower was the Italian Gothic artist Giovanni di Balduccio (1290), who was active in Pisa and Milan.
Giovanni Pisano was followed by Andrea Pisano (1295-1348) - no relation, in fact he is sometimes called Andrea da Pontedera - who worked with Giotto on the reliefs in the Campanile of the Florentine Cathedral, and later executed the first of the famous series of three bronze doors for the Cathedral Baptistery. They show how the spirit of Gothic sculpture was steadily infiltrating across the Alps into Northern Italy and replacing the heavier Roman forms of eighty years earlier. Andrea still belongs to the fourteenth century.
For a glimpse of French sculpture during the fourteenth century, most of which was done in the International Gothic style (a sort of sophisticated Gothic manner adopted by court artists), see the career of the French sculptor Andre Beauneveu (c.1335-1400) who worked for King Charles V. His contemporary the Flemish sculptor Claus Sluter (c.1340-1406) was even more influential, being a key figure in the transition from the International Gothic to the Renaissance.
Renaissance Italy (1400-1530)
During the fifteenth century, Italy was composed of a mixture of differing regional entities, including the Duchies of Milan and Savoy, and the Republics of Venice, Genoa, Florence, and Siena. Furthermore, the States of the Church owned a large chunk of Central Italy, while the whole of Southern Italy including Sicily belonged to the Kingdom of Naples. Generally speaking, these communities were ruled in monarch-fashion by families and individuals, many of whom became important patrons of Renaissance art, including the art of sculpture as well as painting. The most important ruling families included the Sforza and Visconti at Milan, the Gonzagas in Mantua, the Montefeltro at Urbino, the Este at Ferrara and Modena, the Malatesta at Rimini, the Bentivoglio at Bologna, and the powerful Medici family in Florence. At the vatican in Rome, pontiffs interested in fine art included Pope Sixtus IV (1471-84), Pope Julius II (1503-13), Pope Leo X (1513-21) and Pope Paul III (1534-49).
Almost from the outset, sculpture and painting were characterized by individualism, as progress became less and less a reflection of schools, and more about the work of individual artists. An equally important feature of Renaissance art was its naturalism. In sculpture, this was evident in the increase of contemporary subjects, together with a more naturalistic handling of proportions, drapery, anatomy, and perspective. A third feature was the reemergence of classical subjects and forms. Since the fall of Rome in the fifth century, Italy never completely forgot the sculpture of ancient Greece, nor could it ignore the visible mass of Roman ruins. The revival of classicism in sculpture began about the time of Nicola Pisano (c.1206-1278), and, though checked in the 14th-century, continued throughout the 15th-century. True, Gothic traditions survived for a good deal of the quattrocento, but typically assumed something of a classic manner. Classicism took over completely only during the High Renaissance (c.1490-1530). One final point needs to be stressed. Italian Renaissance art was primarily religious art. Less so perhaps than during the Romanesque or Gothic periods - after all Europe was becoming wealthier - but Christianity remained a dominant force in the lives (and art) of princes and paupers alike.
Types of Sculpture: Religious and Secular
The demand for sculpture during the quattrocento and cinquecento remained largely ecclesiastical. Church exteriors were adorned with stone sculpture, not only around the doorways, but sometimes the whole facade was decorated with relief sculpture and column-statues. Meanwhile church interiors were filled with marble sculpture (for pulpits, baptismal fonts, tabernacles, important tombs, groups of statues), and wood carving (notably, for choir stalls, statuettes, as well as painted altarpieces after the Late Gothic style). Cathedral baptistery, and sacristy doors were often composed entirely of bronze sculpture, usually low reliefs. The interior walls of Renaissance churches also housed large architectural tombs, memorializing secular rulers, generals, statesmen, and philosophers as well as the usual cardinals and bishops.
Palaces and private homes were also decorated with sculpture. Doorways, gardens, reception rooms and interior features were the most commonly embellished areas. Interior sculptural works included, friezes, carved ceilings, fireplaces, statuettes and busts, while exterior works extended to gargoyles, fountains, shrines, statues including Madonnas and saints.
Themes used in sculpture were very similar to those used in early Renaissance painting. Subjects for ecclesiastical works nearly always came from the Old and New Testament of the Bible. If the Madonna and Child is the most popular subject, other common subjects included scenes from the life of Christ or the Virgin Mary, as well as episodes from Genesis. Decorative motifs of classic origin were occasionally introduced into religious sculpture, but mythological subjects much more rarely, except for Cupids and Putti. Subjects broadened however, during High Renaissance painting, and this also affected sculpture. Themes for non-church sculpture might feature scenes from classical mythology, and portraits of or motifs connected with the patron concerned, as well as Biblical subjects.
Materials and Methods
Precious metals, like gold and silver, were used less in sculpture than in the preceding Gothic period. And while the goldsmith's workshop continued to train some of the finest Renaissance sculptors and painters, gradually training became more specialized as the various disciplines became more independent of each other, and the influence of the goldsmith was limited to the craft of metalwork. Bronze however was given a more important role, being employed first for reliefs, then for statues or busts. It was a particularly popular medium for Renaissance sculptors, both because of its ductility and durability and also because of its brilliance when gilded. Not surprisingly, such benefits took time to emerge, as early bronze-casting was crude, and finished pieces were not highly polished. But by the time of the High Renaissance these difficulties had been overcome and a high degree of technical perfection achieved.
In stone sculpture, growing refinement and demand for detail, led to a greatly increased use of marble, as well as other finer types like Istrian stone, and Pietra serena sandstone. White Carrara marble, the favourite of Michelangelo, was used widely for monumental sculpture, its colour sometimes softened by wax. Details of statues - including hair, ornaments and sometimes skin - were often gilded or painted.
Terracotta became fashionable as a cheap alternative to marble and, when glazed, was equally durable. It could also be painted before glazing, for a permanent polychromatic effect. It was used throughout Italy during the 15th-century, for altarpieces, pulpits, fonts, and other ecclesiastical fixtures, as well as numerous domestic applications. Even cheaper material than terracotta was fine stucco, made from marble dust and sand. Both terracotta and stucco stimulated the copying of ancient masterworks by the most distinguished sculptors of antiquity.
Wood was another inexpensive sculptural material, but the tradition of wood carving was limited generally to thickly wooded regions, notably the Austrian Tyrol and Southern Germany, where it was practised with virtuoso skill by master-craftsmen like Michael Pacher (1435-98), Tilman Riemenschneider (1460-1531), Veit Stoss (1447-1533) and Gregor Erhart (1460-1540).
Whether working in stone, bronze or wood, the sculptural techniques used by Renaissance sculptors were by and large the same as those used by Greek or Roman sculptors: the same types of implement were used and many of the same techniques were followed. But the ethos of the Renaissance was far more pictorial. Written designs, for instance, were considered to be essential. In addition, great attention was paid to perspective, the use of multiple planes, and gradations of relief. Furthermore, preliminary cartoons, studies, and small-scale models of the intended sculpture in clay, wood or wax, could be progressed far enough by the master-sculptor to allow it to be completed in bronze or marble by a pupil or other artisan.
Florentine Renaissance Sculpture (c.1400-1450)
It was in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in Northern Italy that the larger cities were taking shape new forms of Renaissance architecture flourished and sculptors were more closely linked with architects than they are today. Thus it is not surprising that the beginnings of a recognizably Italian style are to be found in sculpture a little earlier than in painting. Nor is it surprising that after the first Pisan outburst, the great sculptors of Italy were almost all Florentines. The keen Florentine mind had a natural bias towards formal and structural problems, which - given its reverence for disegno - could find their solution as easily in sculpture as in painting. Added to which was the proximity of stone and marble quarries without which a regional school of sculpture cannot easily flourish. The most important sculptors of the first half of the Florentine Renaissance (1400-90), were Lorenzo Ghiberti, Donatello (Donato di Niccolo), and Luca Della Robbia.
Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455) obtained his technical training from his stepfather Bartolo, a goldsmith. He began as a painter, but his real talent lay in the sculpture of small objects. In his De Orificeria Benvenuto Cellini comments: "Lorenzo Ghiberti was a true goldsmith, not only in his graceful manner of creating objects of beauty, but in the diligence and finish which he gave to his work. He put his entire soul into the production of miniature works, and although occasionally he applied himself to larger-scale sculpture, he was much more at home when making smaller objects." Ghiberti's key works as a goldsmith were a gold mitre and pluvial button (1419) for Pope Martin V (1417-31), and a gold mitre (1439) for Pope Eugenius IV (1431-47). These beautiful mitres, embellished with miniature reliefs and figures and emblazoned with precious gems, were melted down in 1527 to provide funds for Pope Clement VII (1523-34). His bronzes were more fortunate, as they have all survived, and Ghiberti devoted himself to bronze with the same spirit of the goldsmith. In 1401 he succeeded in winning the contract for a pair of bronze doors for the Florence Baptistery, beating contemporary rivals Jacopo della Quercia (c.1374-1438) and Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) in the process.
His design for the doors followed the same basic scheme as used previously by Andrea Pisano: it comprised 28 panels, depicting the life of Christ, the four Apostles, and the four Fathers of the Church. However, Ghiberti's doors are richer in composition, higher in relief, and more naturalistic in its figures and drapery. Ghiberti devoted almost the whole of his Early Renaissance working life to the making of the famous second and third pairs of bronze doors for the Florentine Baptistery. They are marvels of craftsmanship, and the low relief treatment of landscape and architectural backgrounds in the third pair is skilful and ingenious, but the unfailing suave flow of drapery in Ghiberti's figures becomes a little tiresome. In the second pair of doors the narrative panels are contained within Gothic quatrefoils, similar in shape to those of Andrea Pisano cast ninety years earlier, but more crowded in composition. In the third pair, begun in 1427 and finished in 1452, the advancing classic tide had swept away the outward forms of Gothicism. The quatrefoils are replaced by square panels, and the treatment - as though a rectangle meant for Ghiberti, a picture, - becomes ingeniously but almost embarrassingly pictorial. Rarely have the frontiers of painting and sculpture approached each other so nearly as in these ten Old Testament narratives. To Ghiberti's contemporaries these tours de force of low relief in bronze were astonishing: Michelangelo himself declared that the doors were worthy of forming the entrance to Paradise. They still are: yet they reveal an ingenious rather than a creative mind.
Other important contemporaries of Ghiberti included the sculptor-architect Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446), another of the competitors for the first baptistery doors, and a friend of Donatello Nanni di Banco (1375-1421), whose statues of St. Eligius at Or San Michele, of St. Luke in Florence Cathedral, and the Assumption of the Madonna by the north doorway are especially noteworthy and Niccolo d' Arezzo (b.1370), who collaborated with Piero di Giovanni on the north door of the cathedral.
Donatello (Donato di Niccolo) (1386-1466) was in many ways the most representative sculptor of the quattrocento. The chronology of his work reflects the changing aesthetic of the times. Up to 1425 his sculpture was thoroughly Gothic. With some exceptions, the statues he created for the Cathedral, for the Campanile, and for Or San Michele are somewhat awkward in pose, over-heavy with drapery, and lacking in grace. Apostles and prophets appear to be little more than portraits of his own contemporaries. Even his Christ is but a peasant. The St. George, however, is completely different - an outburst of creative energy.
It was during the period, 1425-1444, that Donatello produced most of his best works, and extended his reputation beyond Florence, as far as Siena, Montepulciano, Orvieto, Rome, even Naples. Like Luca della Robbia, he fused Hellenic grandeur with northern naturalism. But to this fusion of opposites he added the unique force of his own creative imagination which could produce, at one moment the stylish elegance of the boy David, casually resting his foot on the severed head of Goliath (surely one of the greatest sculptures ever and the first free-standing nude statue since Classical times - for more details, see: David by Donatello), the undergraduate arrogance of the young St George, the dignity of the seated St John, in which Michelangelo found the inspiration for his Moses, the Rodinesque naturalism of Il Zuccone - a bald-headed beggar turned Old Testament prophet - on the Campanile, the animated, ungainly dance of children of the Cathedral Cantoria (executed only two years after Luca della Robbia's), the equestrian statue of Gattamelata in Padua, the prototype of all Renaissance equestrian statues, and by common consent, the grandest, and finally those low relief narrative bronzes done for the high altar of St Anthony's Church in Padua. These marvellously inventive works could be described as the archtypes of all expressionism in narrative art. The suave Hellenic rhythms of Ghiberti have been abandoned as useless for Donatello's purposes, and in their place we find a new nervous energy, a new dynamism. All kinds of restless, momentary gestures add to the emotional intensity of the story to be told. Compared with these crowded and daring experiments Ghiberti's attempts at picturesqueness on the Baptistery doors are sadly lacking in vitality and imagination.
He collaborated on several works with the Florentine architect and bronze sculptor Michelozzo di Bartolommeo (sometimes mistakenly referred to as Michelozzo Michelozzi) (1396-1472). In partnership with Michelozzo, Donatello produced three important tombs: those of the anti-pope John XXIII (1424-8, Baptistery of Florence) Cardinal Brancacci (1426-8, San Angelo a Nilo, Naples) and Bartolommeo Aragazzi (1427-38, Montepulciano Cathedral). In his relief sculpture of this period, he introduced some new perspective effects, most visibly on the font in the Siena Baptistery, the pulpit at Prato, and the organ gallery of the Florence Cathedral. His realism (as in Il Zuccone, 1423-6, Museo dell'opera del Duomo, Florence) was gradually superceded by a more refined classicism, most particularly in his revolutionary bronze statue of David (1440-3, Museo Nationale del Bargello, Florence).
Donatello's final period opened with a visit to Padua in 1444, and lasted until his death in 1466. It was marked by a significant rise in his sense of drama. True, his bronze Equestrian Statue of the Gattemelata (Condottiere Erasmo da Narni) (1444-53, Piazza del Santo, Siena). showed a considerable amount of classical restraint, but his relief sculpture, ranging from the S. Antonio altar-reliefs in Padua to the bronze pulpit reliefs of S. Lorenzo in Florence, traced his gradual decline. His later reliefs, for instance, are marked by exaggerated emotion, disjointed composition, and an overly loose treatment of form and drapery. They are unfortunate precursors of the Rococo style into which Italian sculpture was doomed to fall.
Two artists in particular are associated with Donatello's early manner: Nanni di Bartolo (Il Rosso) (c.1379-48), who produced several statues of prophets for Giotto's Campanile (bell-tower) of Florence Cathedral and Bernardo Ciuffagni (1385-1456), responsible for the seated St. Matthew in the Cathedral. Agostino di Duccio (1418) was another follower who was greatly inspired by Donatello's best work, although his handling of drapery is more reminiscent of that of Ghiberti. See for instance his statues on the facade of San Bernardino at Perugia. His carvings have the same kind of flowing arabesque of line and something of the same wistful delicacy as the paintings of Botticelli. He is a minor poet of sculpture, but he left a memorable mark on the interior of the famous Tempio Malatestiana at Rimini, which owes more than half its loveliness to his great series of gentle, pagan carvings round the walls.
There is no doubt that Donatello's sculpture had a huge impact on both painters and sculptors alike. His use of classical motifs, his sophisticated used of perspective, and his virtuosity in all materials, made him the most influential sculptor of his age, unmatched by any Renaissance artist until Michelangelo.
Less experimental than Ghiberti, more restrained than Donatello, Luca Della Robbia (1400-1482) trained under the goldsmith Leonardo di Ser Giovanni, achieving a recognizable mastery of bronze (doorways at the sacristy of the Florence Cathedral), as well as marble sculpture (choir-gallery reliefs, and marble tomb of Bishop Benozzo Federighi, S. Francesco di Paola). Best known as the founder of a school of glazed-terracotta clay sculpture, his influence on Italian Renaissance sculpture should not be underestimated. Curiously, the finest single work done by Luca is his first - the marble reliefs in the Cantoria of the Cathedral in Florence, finished in 1438. Photography and their wonderfully fluent charm have made them hackneyed, but charm is the least of their virtues. The carvings of boy musicians and child dancers have an almost Hellenic purity: yet they reveal a wonderfully observant eye for the behaviour and gestures of adolescence and they are enlivened by touches of quiet humour.
Other early sculptures, such as the Resurrection (1443) and the Ascension (1446), the lunettes in Florence's cathedral and the church of S. Pierino, were influenced by Leonardo di Ser Giovanni and Ghiberti. But his lunette of the Madonna and Child over the doorway in the Via dell' Agnolo, as well as the Apostle medallions in the Pazzi Chapel, and the Visitation group at S. Giovanni Fuorcivitas, Pistoia, were executed in his personal style. It was in about 1463 that he created the exquisite medallion for the Florentine General Council of Merchants, and for the Guild of Stone Masons and Wood Carvers, both of which embellish the facade of Or San Michele. His later works include the magnificent Tabernacle of the Holy Cross at Impruneta. In some of his works Luca Della Robbia employed coloured glazes, but more often he applied colour only to details, such as the eyes and eyebrows, or as a superficial embellishment.
Luca's terracotta sculpture business was boosted significantly by his nephew, Andrea della Robbia (1435-1525). Andrea used terracotta more extensively and took it into the smaller towns of the region. To begin with - as in his early works at La Verna and Arezzo - he borrowed heavily from his uncle's repertoire and style, before developing a slightly more graceful style of his own - as illustrated by the lunette over the entrance of the cathedral at Prato and the altar in the Osservanza near Siena. Sometimes however, this gracefulness deteriorated into sentimentality, as in his reliefs over the portal of S. Maria della Quercia at Viterbo.
Andrea was followed in the business by his five sons, of whom Giovanni (1469-1529) was the most talented, being noted for the sacristy (1497) of S. Maria Novella, the Nativity (1521) in the Museo Nazionale, and the medallions at the Ceppo Hospital at Pistoia. The youngest son Girolamo (1488-1566) introduced the family tradition into France, with no discernible influence on French art.
Florentine Renaissance Sculpture (c.1450-1500)
During the latter half of the 15th-century, demand for large-scale sculpture in both marble and bronze rose appreciably. Churches required a range of different items for their altarpieces, tabernacles, pulpits, tombs, and interior recesses, all sculptured in the new dynamic Renaissance style, while secular palaces needed new friezes, chimney pieces, portrait busts and numerous other types of decorative sculpture. The most eminent marble sculptors in late 15th-century Florence included Desiderio, the Rossellino brothers, Benedetto da Maiano, and Mino da Fiesole. The best of the bronze-workers of the same period were Verrocchio and Pollaiuolo.
Desiderio da Settignano
Desiderio da Settignano (1430-64) absorbed the spirit of Donatello's best sculpture, to which he added a sense of harmony and a refined elegance all of his own. His tomb for Chancellor Carlo Marsuppini in the Church of S. Croce is the best example of this type of monument. So too is his marble tabernacle in the Church of S. Lorenzo. Also noteworthy were his dignified portrait busts of Marietta Strozzi and of the Princess of Urbino, while his busts of children continue to be mistakenly attributed to Donatello. Although he died at the tender age of 34, his contribution to Italian Renaissance sculpture was lasting.
Bernardo and Antonio Rossellino
Although technically accomplished, Bernardo Rossellino (1409) lacked originality as an artist. In architecture he was a devoted follower of Alberti, while in sculpture he borrowed too much from others, as illustrated by his famous tomb of Leonardo Bruni (d.1444). His younger brother Antonio Rossellino (1427-1479) did better: his St. Sebastian in the Collegiate Church at Empoli is seen as one of the most graceful statues of the quattrocento. His tomb of Cardinal Portogallo (d.1459) at San Miniato, while perhaps lacking in architectural importance, is nevertheless full of beauty. His low-relief sculpture and his portrait busts are no less impressive than many of Desiderio's works.
According to the biographer Giorgio Vasari, Desiderio's pupil Mino da Fiesole (1429-84) was responsible for a huge number of altars, pulpits, tombs, reliefs, statues and busts. A skilful craftsman, he spurned the use of models or cartoons, and was noted for his excellent finish. Incorporating a good deal of Desiderio's refinement, his work typically had the charm of distinction, coupled with an unusual mannerism. Despite his long residence in Rome, he borrowed little from classical antiquity: indeed, his Roman sculpture does not compare to his best Florentine work. His finest sculptures, all in Fiesole Cathedral, include the tomb of Bishop Leonardo Salutati, as well as the altarpiece depicting the Madonna with the Infant Jesus.
While not particularly original, Benedetto da Maiano (1442-97), was a perfect representative of the general ethos of his age. His altar of St. Savinus at Faenza (1470) as well as his St. Sebastian in the Misericordia at Florence borrowed noticeably from Antonio Rossellino, whose influence can also be seen in Benedetto's works at San Gimignano. More striking is his celebrated pulpit at the church of S. Croce in Florence, decorated with picturesque reliefs from the life of Saint Francis. But his Madonna statues and reliefs lack the edge of those by the earlier masters, being reminiscent of well-fed, prosperous women of the middle class.
The Lucca-born Matteo Civitali (1435-1501) is properly a representative of Florentine sculpture, whose works were influenced by Antonio Rossellino, Desiderio and Benedetto da Maiano. Even so, there is a hint of most un-Florentine-like emotion in many of his sculptures. His Christ figures are men of great sorrow his angels are adoring his Madonnas are tender-hearted mothers. Charming examples of his work can be seen in Genoa, as well as Lucca.
Florentine Bronze Sculptors
If Florence's marble sculptors contributed a great deal to the spread of grace and beauty of Renaissance art, its bronze-workers were no less active in mastering the techniques of their medium.
Antonio Pollaiuolo (1432-98), a pupil of Bartolo - Ghiberti's stepfather - achieved great things as a goldsmith and metallurgist. His funereal monument for Pope Sixtus IV (St. Peter's Basilica, Rome), completed in 1493, was a development from the slab tomb. The Pope is depicted reclining upon a couch, adorned with reliefs of the seven Virtues, and the ten Liberal Arts, a work in which Pollaiuolo relied upon richness of detail rather than pure mass. His tomb for Pope Innocent VIII, also in St. Peter's, is less remarkable, while his small-scale bronzes of Marsyas and of Hercules and Cacus, in the Bargello at Florence, strive too hard for effect. At the same time, however, assuming that the base of a silver cross in the Cathedral Museum of Florence is correctly attributed to Pollaiuolo, it is clear that he possessed an unusually well-developed sense of architecture. He was also celebrated as the founder of the "goldsmith" school of painting.
Andrea del Verrocchio
Andrea del Verrocchio (1435) produced the best metalwork of his day, and was the greatest sculptor between Donatello and Michelangelo. Trained in goldsmithing by Giuliano Verrocchio, he learned more from Donatello and Desiderio, before finally developing an independent style of his own. In his Medici monument (1472), in the sacristy of S. Lorenzo, he borrowed from Desiderio although he preferred straight to curved lines. His bronze David (1476) in the Bargello, exudes the spirit of Donatello, but is more angular, less sylph-like and less provocative. More innovative is his Christ and the Doubting Thomas (1483) in a niche on the exterior of Or San Michele, although its drapery is perhaps too heavy, as it may be also in the Cardinal Forteguerra monument in the cathedral at Pistoia.
Verrocchio is the acknowledged type of the all-round Florentine artist, content to refine on his inheritance rather than to widen its scope yet he left behind him one superb sculptural conception - his last work, which he did not live to see as we can see it now - the bronze statue of Bartolommeo Colleoni (1480-95) astride his horse, on the high pedestal in the Piazza of SS Giovanni e Paolo in Venice. Compared with this, Donatello's effort at Siena appears decidely immobile: indeed, in no other equestrian statue are horse and rider composed with such unity.
Florence was the inspirational driving force of Italian Renaissance sculpture during the fifteenth century, and her influence radiated throughout Italy. Even so, other centres, like Siena, Milan, Venice, Padua, and Umbria, also produced sculptors of originality and influence.
Sienese School of Renaissance Sculpture
The more conservative Siena remained an outpost of Gothic art far longer than Florence. Like the Sienese School of Painting, the city's sculptors continued to express both the naturalism and emotion of Gothic sculpture, but without the classical motifs and dynamic sense of Renaissance aesthetics. The leading Sienese sculptor was Jacopo della Quercia, a not unimportant influence on the young Michelangelo.
Jacopo della Quercia (1371-1438)
Jacopo della Quercia, born about 1370, is the first Italian sculptor of whom it can be said that he understood the full meaning of the Italian Renaissance, and used the human figure neither as a vehicle for restless Gothic energy nor for static Classic nobility, but for deeper spiritual meanings. One sees him at his best in the great series of relief sculptures that surround the main doors of the Church of San Petronio in Bologna. Here was a man who could conceive, in carved low relief, figures as solid and expressive as those in Masaccio's Brancacci Chapel frescoes which were being executed at precisely the same moment. In some cases, one can compare the approach of the two artists to the same subject and note how similar, for example, is their conception of the expulsion of Adam and Eve. There is the same mastery of the naked human body for narrative purposes, the same grandeur of rhythm, the same preference for gestures that are expensive rather than graceful. Michelangelo, who visited Bologna at the age of nineteen must have seen this great series of carvings, and remembered them when he came to design his Adam and Eve frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. Jacopo della Quercia was followed by Lorenzo Vecchietta (1412-1480), Antonio Federighi (c.1420-1490) and the bronze caster Giacomo Cozzarelli (1453-1515).
Milanese School of Renaissance Sculpture
In Lombardy, especially at Milan but also in Parma, Cremona, Bergamo and Pavia, the Milanese School of sculptors left their mark throughout northern Italy. Although the Gothic tradition, was more firmly entrenched than in Florence, it failed to halt the spread of Renaissance ideas and methods. At the same time, plastic art in Lombardy tended to be more elaborately decorated, in order to satisfy the demand for ornamentation. Thus, for instance, when the Florentine artist Michelozzo came to work in Milan he altered his style to suit Lombardian taste. This decorative style is exemplified in the sculptures of Milan Cathedral, of the Colleoni Chapel at Bergamo and the Certosa at Pavia. The brothers Cristoforo Mantegazza (c.1420-82) and Antonio Mantegazza (c.1425-95) - head sculptors at the Certosa, known for their conventional, hard, academic style - were two of the first stone carvers to depict drapery in the "cartaceous" manner, from its similarity to wet paper. They were followed by Giovanni Antonio Omodeo (1447-1522), whose sculpture demonstrated a significant step forward in terms of naturalism and classical forms. See for instance, his decorative pieces for the Colleoni Chapel, his tomb for Bartolommeo Colleoni at Bergamo, his work on the exterior of the Certosa at Pavia, and his Borrommeo monuments at Isola Bella.
Other top sculptors of the Lombardian School included: Cristoforo Solari (active 1489-1520) whose High Renaissance works were influenced in particular by Michelangelo the clay relief sculptor Caradosso (1445-1527) whom Benvenuto Cellini judged to be the most talented goldsmith he ever met, and whose terracotta reliefs for the sacristy in the church of San Satiro ranked alongside those of the great Donatello and Agostino Busti (1480-1548) noted for his signature "miniaturist" style which he applied with some success to monumental sculpture.
Venetian School of Renaissance Sculpture
While Milanese artists sculpted for patrons in Bergamo, Brescia, Genoa, and other northern Italian towns, the influence of Venice extended to Istria and Dalmatia in the east, to Verona and Brescia in the west and Ravenna, Cesena, Faenza, and Ancona to the south.
Venetian sculpture, like Venetian painting a little exotic, tended to appeal to the emotions, while that of Milan, Siena and Florence appealed to the intellect. This was only natural, given Venice's preference for colorito rather than the Florentine disegno. (For a colourful career in Venetian sculpture, see the sculptor-architect Filippo Calendario.) So perhaps it is no surprise that the city produced no first-rank sculptors during the Renaissance. Venetian artists worth mentioning include: Antonio Bregno (c.1400-1462), Antonio Rizzo (active 1465-99), Pietro Lombardo (1435-1515), his sons Tullio Lombardo (c.1455-1532) and Antonio Lombardo (1458-1516), as well as Alessandro Leopardi (d.1522).
Not unlike Siena and Milan, the Venetian school was too fond of the Gothic style to cast it aside too quickly. Thus the transitional period, during which Gothic co-existed with Renaissance, was a comparatively long one in Venice. Moreover, neither Donatello (nor his followers in Padua) nor Antonio Rizo of Verona, had any success in altering the trend of Venetian sculpture. The continuity of its development is revealed in the sculptural decoration of the Porta della Carta of the Doge's palace, and it succeeds finally in reflecting the classical humanism of the Italian Renaissance in the work of Pietro Lombardo (1435-1515). The latter's manner is clear from his tombs for the Doges Niccolo Marcello (d.1474) and Pietro Mocenigo (d.1476), but a typical Venetian charm pervades his decorative art in the church of S. Maria dei Miracoli.
Paduan School of Renaissance Sculpture
Fifteenth century Padua possessed a productive if not highly distinguished school of sculpture whose influence was mainly felt in Mantua and Ferrara. After obliging Donatello to change his style so as to suit her inferior taste, his pupils in the city became popular sculptors, of whom the most talented was Giovanni da Pisa, creator of the figurative terracotta sculpture in the church of the Eremitani. Better known was Bartolommeo Bellano (1430-1498), whose replicas of works by Donatello and Desiderio demonstrated his lack of originality, while his reliefs for the pulpits in S. Lorenzo, in Florence, were marked by an artificial striving for dramatic effect. His successor Andrea Briosco (1470-1532) absorbed something of his approach, albeil moderated by a greater knowledge of Greek art. On the other hand, in his small-scale domestic bronze reliefs, in his candlesticks and jewellery chests and statuettes, he showed himself a master, and attracted a notable school of followers.
High Renaissance Italian Sculpture
Sculpture during the late-15th and early-16th-century gradually assumed a greater individual importance in relation to architecture and painting. Thus architecture actually became more sculpture-like: pilasters were replaced by columns cornices and mouldings were endowed with greater projection, allowing for new patterns of light and shade. Painting, too, became more plastic, as figures received greater modelling and perspective overtook outline and composition in importance. Indeed, sculpture occasionally reduced her sister arts to subjection. In wall tombs, figures were given a new prominence, with architectural construction being regarded as mere backdrop. Even entire buildings were sometimes treated as mere backdrops for sculptured figures. In addition, the entrancing bas-reliefs of the Early Renaissance were superceded by haut-relief and statues. Modelling, posture, and movement of drapery became the new criteria for excellence, as also did the creation of colossal statues. The influence of classical Greek sculpture was maintained if not increased, but rarely led to the reproduction of antique forms.
A major High Renaissance sculptor in Florence was Andrea Sansovino (1467). His early terracotta clay altarpieces in S. Chiara at Monte Sansavino owed much to Andrea del Verrocchio and Antonio Rossellino. And his group of figures depicting the Baptism of Christ, over the doorway of the Florence baptistery, was on a par with the painting of Lorenzo di Credi (1458-1537) - and marked a distinct decline from the more energetic conceptions of del Verrocchio. In Rome, his funereal monuments for the Cardinals Ascanio Sforza and Girolamo Basso della Rovere, while charming in their decorative detail, demonstrated a conflict between sculpture and architecture. His heads and drapery were essentially classical, but the proportions of his figures were too heavy. His later sculpture at Loreto was too contrived, and too reliant on the new Mannerism.
His pupil Benedetto da Rovezzano (1476) had much of Sansavino's technical ability, and more originality, as illustrated by his delicate floral designs, and odd combinations of skulls and cross-bones. His tombs for Piero Soderini in the Carmine and for Oddo Altoviti in SS. Apostoli in Florence are more interesting than arresting, while his relief in the Bargello pictorializing the Life of S. Giovanni Gualberto revealed the independence of his art. His tomb for King Louis XII of France, and his tomb for Cardinal Wolsey in England (unfinished) did much to introduce Italian Renaissance ideas into Northern Europe. The irascible Venetian sculptor Piero Torrigiano (1472-1522) also went to England, where he created the tomb of Henry VII in Westminster Abbey. Another of Sansovino's pupils, Francesco di San Gallo (1493) revealed something of his teacher's manner, to which he added a greater sense of realism. His tomb for Bishop Leonardo Bonafede, at the Certosa near Florence, derived from the bas-relief slabs of the Late Gothic and Early Renaissance periods.
In Lombardy, the line of talented sculptors appears to end with Agostino Busti. Those who came after him were inferior: even Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) contributed little to the art of sculpture. The influence of the Florentine Michelangelo was quite dominant.
In Modena, some progression was achieved by Guido Mazzoni (1450-1518) - noted for his figurative clay sculpture, including Head of a Laughing Boy (1498, British Royal Collection), allegedly a portrait of a young Henry VIII - and Antonio Begarelli (1479), who specialized in terracotta and sculpted groups for recesses, altarpieces and statues. His earlier works like the Bewailing of Christ in S. Maria Pomposa, owed much to Mazzoni, but Begarelli found more varied means of expression and captured a good deal more movement in his compositions. His later work - such as the altarpiece at S. Pietro, portraying Four Saints with the Madonna surrounded by Angels in the Clouds - was infused with the spirit of Correggio (1490-1534).
In Bologna, a similar progression may be traced in the work of Alfonso Lombardi (1497-1537). His early work at Ferrara and at S. Pietro, Bologna, also resembled works by Mazzoni. Later he fell under the influence of Sansavino, and adopted a more overtly classical manner: see for instance, his sculpture in the left portal of S. Petronio. Another artist of merit was the sculptress, Properzia de' Rossi (1490-1530). Niccole Pericoli (Il Tribolo) (1485-1550) was another sculptor of talent, as illustrated by the sibyls, angels, prophets, and other reliefs around the portals of S. Petronio. A sequence of misfortunes prevented him from achieving the proper recognition that he deserved.
In Venice, the top sculptor was another pupil of Andrea Sansavino, the Florentine Jacopo Tatti, better known as Jacopo Sansavino (1487-1570). In 1506, he followed his master to Rome, where he moved in circles frequented by Donato Bramante (1444-1514) and Raphael (1483-1520), and became infused with the spirit and manner of the classical antique. His Bacchus Holding a Bowl of Wine (c.1508, Museo Nazionale, Florence), is an excellent example of his sculpture during this period. From about 1518 to 1527 he was in Rome after which he went to Venice, where he fulfilled several important architectural and sculptural commissions, altering his style to produce the rich decorative effects required by Venetian patrons. In his statues of Apollo, Mercury, Minerva, and Peace for the Loggietta near the Campanile of S. Marco, he demonstrated that he was a worthy successor of Pietro Lombardo. However, his famous bronze door in the choir of S. Marco and his marble relief for the Chapel of S. Antonio at Padua were altogether less worthy. Other Venetian High Renaissance sculptors included Alessandro Vittoria (1525-1608) and Girolamo Campagna.
During the Early Renaissance, Florence supplied artists to Rome. But during the High Renaissance, Rome dominated art (especially sculpture) throughout Italy, largely through the person of the Florentine genius Michelangelo.
Michelangelo (1475-1564), though equally brilliant as architect, sculptor, and painter, was quintessentially a sculptor in everything he did. Though his early works owed something to Donatello and Jacopo della Quercia, his spirit gave to sculpture a greater sense of independence than it had enjoyed at any time since the days of the Greeks. Indeed his plastic art was rooted in Antiquity, because from the very beginning he was interested only in the human form. Inspired by the values of sculpture in Ancient Greece, he chose to make the human body express everything he had to say.
Michelangelo's first style of work (1488-1496) may be compared to that of Donatello, though it was freer and more classical. He perfectly captured to perfection the Head of a Faun, the stone statue identified with the restored part of the so-called Red Marsyas in the Uffizi and depicted the Madonna della Scala (Madonna of the Stairs) (c.1490, Casa Buonarroti, Florence) with the same degree of dignity and humanity that is typically found in Greek reliefs. He revelled in the male nudes in his marble high-relief known as Battle of the Centaurs, suggested to him by Poliziano. His debt to Donatello can be seen in the marble statue of the Young St John (S. Giovannino) in Berlin, with its slim form, oversized hands, and expressive head.
His second style of work (1496-1505) demonstrated greater originality and knowledge of human anatomy. In spite of the heavy expanse of drapery, his masterpiece Pieta (1500, St Peter's Basilica) creates an intensely personal moment of human sorrow. Sculpted from a single block of Carrara marble, it combines classical idealism with Christian piety and an exceptional eye for anatomical detail: Christ's veins are even shown as distended, emphasizing how recently blood flowed in his body. Ironically, when it was first shown to the public, he heard people attribute it to a more famous sculptor of the time, so he carved his own name on the ribbon across the breast of the Madonna. His joy at discovering new poses, as in his Genesis fresco, was exhibited in sculpture in the Cupid (1497). His next masterpiece the Statue of David (1501-4, Galleria dell'Accademia) demonstrates his sense of drama, as expressed in its powerful head which implies that intellect is greater than the physical might of any giant. The confident serenity of this work should be contrasted with the writhing movement and exaggerated gestures of Giambologna's immortal work, the Rape of the Sabine Women (1583, Loggia dei Lanzi, Florence).
His final style of work (1505), is exemplified by the Moses (1513-15) for Tomb of Julius II, at S.Pietro in Vincoli, Rome - the main surviving figure of the magnificent monument which was to have been installed in St. Peter's in memory of Julius II. The intial design comprised a free-standing structure incorporating as many as forty statues, and was on Michelangelo's mind for forty years (1505), but circumstances intervened to prevent its completion. As it stands in S. Pietro in Vincoli, the tomb is just a fragment of the original, with only the Moses being carved by his hand alone. Two Slaves in the Louvre - Rebellious Slave (1513-16) and Dying Slave (1513-16) - were probably intended for the tomb, as was the Victory (1532-4, Palazzo Vecchio, Florence).
The funereal tombs for the Medici family in the church of San Lorenzo in Florence (1524) were also only partly fulfilled: those for Cosimo and Lorenzo il Magnifico were never produced, while even those for Lorenzo and Giuliano were not completely finished. The Lorenzo (1524-31), referred to a "Il Penseroso" because of his pensive attitude, is a superb figure, and the Giuliano hardly less expressive. But it is the four figures that flank the seated statues of Lorenzo and Giuliano de Medici that are the most typical examples of his genius. They are not merely human bodies in effectively semi-recumbent poses, as they would have been had they been carved by an Athenian of the Periclean age. They are unforgettable expressionist interpretations of Day and Night, Dawn and Dusk. A modern sculptor would tackle the same problem by abandoning anatomical accuracy. Michelangelo's surprising achievement is to have drawn upon a profound knowledge of anatomy and turned it to expressionist purposes. His last great work, the Entombment group in the cathedral of Florence, contains the whole of his extraordinary genius - his absolute command of the human figure as a vessel for the most profound emotional content.
Baccio Bandinelli (1493-1560) sought to be more Michelangelo-like than the great man himself. His first statue, a St.Jerome, was allegedly praised by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), while his second, a Mercury, was purchased by King Francis I. However, the inferiority of his works compared to those of Michelangelo is shown clearly by his static pair Hercules and Cacus (1525-34) in front of the Palazzo Vecchio, which were greatly ridiculed by his contemporaries.
Bandinelli's pupil Bartolommeo Ammanati (1511-1592), who also studied under Jacopo Sansavino, executed numerous works at Padua, Urbino, Florence and Rome. His best sculpture, the Neptune of the fountain in the Piazza della Signoria, is regrettably quite lifeless. The Florentine Mannerist sculptor Benvenuto Cellini (1500-70) described it as "an example of the fate which befalls him who, trying to escape from one evil, falls into another ten times worse, since in trying to escape from Bandinelli it fell into the hands of Ammanati."
The Roman sculptor Raffaello da Montelupo (1505-1566) worked with Andrea Sansavino at Loreto, and later assisted Michelangelo in the Medici Chapel. His carving disappointed Michelangelo, but two altarpieces at Orvieto clearly demonstrate his talent with a chisel. The sculptor-monk Montorsoli (1507-1563) was a more committed follower of Michelangelo, and introduced his style to Bologna, Genoa, and even as far as Sicily. Other artists who exaggerated the manner of Michelangelo and so contributed to the decline of Italian sculpture, included Giacomo della Porta (d.1577) and Prospero Clementi (d.1584).
Italian Renaissance Sculpture can be seen in the best art museums and sculpture gardens around the world, notably the Vatican Museums (Rome), Doria Pamphilj Gallery (Rome), Pitti Palace (Florence), the Louvre (Paris), the Victoria & Albert Museum (London) and the J Paul Getty Museum of Art (LA).
Key Ideas & Accomplishments
- An evolution of radically fresh artistic techniques came into practice, departing from the flat-planed and two-dimensional icon artworks that were popular prior. This included the introduction of revolutionary methods such as one point linear perspective, derived from an understanding of math and architecture, relieve schiacciato, a new style of shallow carving to create atmospheric effect, foreshortening, naturalistic and anatomical detail, proportion, and the use of chiaroscuro and trompe l'oeil to create illusionary realities.
- New subject matter evolved beyond the traditional religious stories that had historically dominated art. This included battle scenes, portraits, and depictions of ordinary people. Art was no longer a way to solely elevate the devotional, but became a way to document the people and events of contemporary times, alongside the historical.
- Early Renaissance artists were highly influenced by the Humanist philosophy that emphasized that man's relationship with the world, the universe, and God was no longer the exclusive province of the Church. This resulted in work that emphasized the emotionally expressive and individualistic characteristics of its subjects in fresh new ways, leading to a more intimate way for viewers to experience art.
- A new standard of patronage in the arts arose during this time, separate from the church or monarchy, the most notable of which was supported by the prominent Medici family. Artists were suddenly in demand to produce work that expressed historical, and often religious, narratives in bold new ways for a community that fostered the arts and nurtured its artists like never before.
Rebuilding the White House and U.S. Capitol
On August 24, 1814, British forces marched into Washington, D.C. and set fire to the White House, the Capitol, and other government buildings. After the British left the city, the government hired James Hoban, designer of the original President's House, to supervise the rebuilding of the mansion and executive office buildings, while Benjamin H. Latrobe returned as Architect of the Capitol. Hoban and his crew had taken nearly ten years to build the first President's House the post-fire restoration took about three years to make the mansion habitable again. They rebuilt the damaged walls and restored the intricately carved stone ornaments. But they also made a few changes. Hoban used timber framing instead of brick to reconstruct the interior walls and substructure in order to finish the work quickly. Over the next century, the timber framing deteriorated as the White House required major structural work in 1902 and 1927. In 1948, the Trumans moved out of the White House so it could be completed gutting. Over the three and a half years, construction crews built a skeleton of steel structural beams on a new concrete foundation, before rebuilding the decorative interiors.
The 1818 Robert King Jr.'s map of Washington, D.C. depicted the appearance of the White House and Capitol, as they would be restored. Hoban's south portico was not completed until 1824 and the map reproduced Thornton's design for the Capitol without the modifications by Latrobe.
Despite the many rounds of renovations, the scorch marks of the fire are still visible today on the White House. The marks were discovered as the exterior of the White House underwent significant cleaning and restoration, a project that spanned from the Jimmy Carter administration to the Bill Clinton administration. They were left uncovered to share an important chapter of White House history. Legend suggests that the White House acquired its name when the house was painted white to cover the stone walls blackened by fire in 1814. In reality, the building was first painted with a lime-based whitewash in 1798, simply as a means of protecting the porous Aquia stone from freezing and spalling. The house acquired its nickname early on and can be found in the correspondence of congressmen years before 1814. The official name in the nineteenth century was the President's House, but during the Victorian era "The Executive Mansion" was used on official letterhead. President Theodore Roosevelt made the White House the official name in 1901.
The scorch marks of the fire are still visible today on the White House as two areas have been left unpainted.
White House Collection/White House Historical Association
In 1815, workers and craftsmen began work to repair the burnt Capitol building. They carved out and replaced dark, begrimed stone around windows and doors, scrubbed smoke damage from interior walls, and hauled away debris. Latrobe chafed under the supervision of Samuel Lane, the Commissioner of Public Buildings, and President James Monroe, who valued speed over design considerations. In November 1817, Latrobe resigned due to continued interference by his superiors. Before leaving Washington, Latrobe restored the old House and Senate Chambers, considered today to be some of the finest neoclassical spaces in America. He also produced drawings for the central rotunda, which were completed by his successor Charles Bulfinch.
The Renaissance was an explosion of ideas, education, and literacy. It produced some of the greatest artwork and artists in history. The leaders of the Renaissance were born in Italy’s independent city-states and drew inspiration from Ancient Greek and Roman civilizations. Even today, the buildings and streets of Rome, Florence, and many other Italian cities are filled with stunning Renaissance art and architecture. Famous Renaissance paintings hang in museums all over the world. The word “renaissance” literally means “rebirth.” In truth, the Renaissance gave birth to the modern world.
Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome is one of the most famous artworks of the Renaissance. (Image via Wikipedia)
The Italian Renaissance was a reaction to life during the Middle Ages. In the Middle Ages, very few people knew how to read. Books were rare—and most were written in Latin, which was not a language spoken by everyday people.
The Renaissance got its start when a group of writers and scholars in Italy began to seek out the knowledge of classical Rome and Greece. These Italians looked back on Ancient Greece and Rome (the period from about 400 BC to AD 476) as a time when literature, philosophy, art and architecture all flourished. Starting in the 1300s, this new group of writers and scholars began calling themselves “humanists” and they referred to the Middle Ages—the time in which they were living—as the “Dark Ages.” They thought knowledge, education, culture, and innovation were not thriving in their own times. To bring back the “light,” they sought out, re-discovered, and studied books written in Ancient Rome and Greece. They wanted to relight the fire of intellectual and civic life that they believed had been snuffed out since the fall of the Roman Empire.
The School of Athens painted by Raphael in about 1509 typifies what the Renaissance was all about. The humanists looked back on ancient Greece and Rome as a time of cultural advancement and artistic achievement—and they wanted to bring the “light” of those times into their own age. With the ancient Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle at the center of the action, the School of Athens pictures numerous philosophers reading, writing, listening, and discussing. This demonstrates some key beliefs of the Renaissance humanists—that society should pursue knowledge and education, that ideas both old and new are worthwhile and exciting, and that public debate is important. (Image via Wikipedia)
Although the authors of most of these ancient Greek and Roman books had been dead for over 1,000 years, their writing survived in the libraries of Europe’s monasteries. For centuries, monks had been making copies, writing out every word of the ancient texts by hand. Not too many people had read these books during the Middle Ages, but they were there when the humanists went looking for them. Inspired by the ideas, stories, and beautiful poetry of the ancient Greek and Roman writers, humanists began writing new works of literature in Latin (which they studied) and the “vernacular,” the language that people spoke every day.
A handwritten copy of The Physics by Aristotle was preserved and probably re-copied in the Middle Ages. The main text is written in a Latin translation, but a second scribe wrote out the original Greek in the margin. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)
One of the early humanists was Giovanni Boccaccio. In 1348, a gruesome disease called the bubonic plague struck Boccaccio’s hometown of Florence, Italy. The “Black Death” swept through Florence and on through Europe, killing tens of millions of people. Boccaccio survived, and the real-life plague became the background for his most famous book, The Decameron. In it, Boccaccio writes a realistic account of the plague and then a fictional story about seven women and three men who flee the city and spend two weeks passing the time telling stories. The 100 stories that the characters tell became wildly popular. One reason for their popularity was that they were written in Italian, not Latin, so more people could read them. Even so, new books still had to be produced by hand, with scribes writing out every line. That strongly limited the number of books that could be produced. But as the Renaissance progressed, all that was about to change.
In about 1450, a man named Johannes Gutenberg who worked as a goldsmith in Germany combined some existing inventions into a brand-new one that would change the course of history. Using his knowledge of metals, Gutenberg perfected “movable type” (something that had already been invented in China). Movable type are little molds of letters and punctuation. They can be arranged in any combination on a rack and then inked for printing. In about 1450, Gutenberg combined movable type with a simple mechanical press—the same kind that was used to squeeze oil out of olives or juice out of grapes—to make a mechanical printing press. Working together, two or three printers could produce over 3,600 pages a day—a lot more than the few pages that a scribe could make copying by hand.
The first book produced with the new printing press was the Gutenberg Bible—and it was a sensation. People all over wanted copies. Within a few years, there were hundreds of print shops around Europe—and Italy was the printing capital of the world. Suddenly a book like The Decameron was available in thousands of copies. With the explosion of books came an explosion in literacy and education. More and more people were learning how to read, and more books were being written. The “light” that the early humanists dreamed of was glowing brighter and brighter.
The Renaissance version of a selfie, this is a print of an early print shop. This illustration from 1568 shows two printers working together on a Gutenberg-style press—the printer on the right is inking the type for the next pressing and the printer on the left is removing a freshly printed sheet. In the background, compositors are setting new pages of type on forms. (Image via Wikipedia)
It’s probably something you don’t think about. But the words you are reading right now are written in a “typeface.” The letters are produced in a particular style—and hopefully the typeface is easy to read. Tens of thousands of typefaces exist today, but they are all inventions that originated with the early movable type of the Renaissance. (Image via Wikipedia)
In addition to rediscovering and studying the writings of ancient Greeks and Romans, the humanists dug up archaeological sites to find artworks and learn about ancient Roman architecture. (This was surprisingly easy because they were living in the very cities that had once been the heart of the Roman Empire.) Soon painters and architects were reviving “classical” styles. Popular features of ancient Roman architecture, such as columns with capitals, rounded arches with a keystone on top, and large domes, were used in new buildings. Unlike the helter skelter cityscapes of the medieval period, Renaissance buildings were constructed symmetrically, with one side looking the same as the other.
This church and scuola in Venice, Italy, are named for San Rocco, the patron saint of plague victims. The scuola on the left was built in 1485. The rounded arches, fluted columns, and triangular pediments are typical of Renaissance architecture. (Odor Zsolt/ Shutterstock)
One of the largest churches in the world, St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome took over 100 years to build. The interior—with its columns, rounded arches and profound symmetry—shows the influence of Roman architecture on Renaissance design. (WDG Photo/ Shutterstock)
In Florence, the Renaissance architect Filippo Brunelleschi was hired in 1418 to build a gigantic dome on top of the city’s cathedral. No one had built a dome that big since Ancient Rome, but Brunelleschi had studied how the dome of the ancient Roman Pantheon had been constructed—plus he had some new ideas of his own. One of Brunelleschi’s key inventions was building a supporting structure of circular rings and vertical ribs made out of stone, wood, and iron. Then, when masons began laying bricks to form the walls of the dome, Brunelleschi had them lay the bricks in a herringbone pattern. Using that pattern shifted the weight of the bricks toward the wooden supports. During the construction of Il Duomo, many residents of Florence feared the dome would collapse. But it didn’t—and to this day, Brunelleschi’s dome remains the largest masonry dome in the world.
Built in AD 126 (and still standing), the Pantheon in Rome was a temple to all of Rome’s gods. It is topped by an enormous concrete dome and was an inspiration to Renaissance architects. (Goran Bogicevic/ Shutterstock)
With its bell tower on one end and dome on the other, the cathedral of Florence, or Il Duomo di Firenze in Italian, is a mixture of medieval and Renaissance architecture. The dome, designed by the Renaissance architect Filippo Brunelleschi, is nearly 150 feet in diameter and weighs over 7 million pounds. It is considered a masterwork of architecture and engineering. (Baloncici/ Shutterstock)
Inside the dome of the cathedral of Florence, the Renaissance artists Giorgio Vasari, Federico Zuccari, and a team of assistants created this massive fresco of The Last Judgment. The final judgment was a common theme for artists decorating Renaissance churches. The artwork shows angels separating the good from the wicked. It is not considered one of the best artworks of the Renaissance, but it is definitely one of the biggest, about the size of eight football fields. (Samot/ Shutterstock)
Florence was the cradle of the Renaissance—and in the 1400s, it was the perfect place for new ideas to shine. Instead of being ruled by a king or a duchess, it was an independent city-state, ruled by members of the city’s trade guilds. There were guilds for lawyers, carpenters, bakers, doctors, leather workers, bankers, cloth makers, and more. Although leaders of the city were voted into office by the guilds, one family came to dominate the political scene: the Medicis. The Medici family had made their money in banking. Throughout the 1400s and part of the 1500s, they led the city of Florence and threw their financial support behind humanist art and architecture projects.
Humanist artwork is one of the most enduring features of the Renaissance. During medieval times, artwork had almost always been religious. And there was still a lot of religious artwork made for churches and chapels during the Renaissance. However, Renaissance artists also began painting and sculpting subjects inspired by Greek and Roman mythology, as well as portraits of real people.
In one of the most well-known paintings of the Renaissance, The Birth of Venus, Sandro Botticelli depicts the Roman goddess of love. To make Venus as sublime as possible, Botticelli added flecks of real gold to Venus’ hair. This painting was commissioned by the powerful Medici family in 1486. Like most Renaissance painters, Botticelli lived off commissions he received from wealthy patrons. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)
The Medici family was a political dynasty that lasted for over 200 years, producing nine leaders of the Republic of Florence, four popes of the Catholic Church, and numerous dukes of Florence and Tuscany. This portrait of Ferdinando de’Medici as a youth was painted by Agnolo Bronzino in about 1560. Court painter to the Medicis for much of his career, Bronzino is known for the care he took in portraying his wealthy patrons’ costumes. In this painting, Ferdinando’s garment looks almost three-dimensional—as if you could feel the texture of the satin and velvet. Later in life, Ferdinando became the Grand Duke of Tuscany. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)
Just as humanist writers wanted to use the language spoken by regular people, Renaissance artists wanted to show the world and its people as they really were. In older medieval European paintings—many of which were Christian-themed—subjects and figures are stylized and often stiff. Renaissance artists took pride in the realism of their work.
Here is one type of painting in which you can clearly see the change in styles: During both the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, a common subject of religious paintings was Mary and the baby Jesus. In medieval paintings, Mary, Jesus, and various saints were often painted with gold halos, indicating that they were divine. During the Renaissance, the same religious subjects were painted to emphasize their human-ness.
This early medieval painting of Jesus and the abbot of a monastery dates from the 6th or 7th century. The artist of this beautiful piece is unknown. Note how the figures of Jesus and the abbot are stylized, almost like drawings from a cartoon strip. (Image via Wikipedia)
In this late medieval painting from 1308 in the Cathedral of Siena in Italy, the artist (Duccio di Buoninsegna) depicts Mary and the baby Jesus sitting on a throne surrounded by saints, angels, and apostles. Although it is still in the medieval style, it is moving toward a more realistic depiction of its subjects. (Image via Wikipedia)
Mary and the baby Jesus are depicted again here in this Renaissance masterpiece, the Sistine Madonna painted by Raphael in 1512. The work was commissioned by Pope Julius II for the monastery of San Sisto in Piancenza, Italy. Even though they appear in the clouds among otherworldly seraphs (look closely for faces peeking out of the mist), Raphael’s Mary and Jesus look far more lifelike than in medieval depictions. (Image via Wikipedia)
Two little angels? In this small section of the Sistine Madonna, two bored-looking cherubs wait for their elders to finish whatever it is they’re doing. (Image via Wikipedia)
How else did Renaissance artists make their work look more realistic? One huge development was the use of linear perspective. With linear perspective, painters could create a sense of depth and distance. Instead of looking flat, their paintings looked like they were in 3-D. Some artists got so good at it that they could use perspective to create optical illusions that fooled people into thinking that what they were seeing was real.
To understand linear perspective, imagine you’re standing on a railroad line, looking down the tracks into the distance. The farther away the tracks are, the narrower and smaller they look. Finally, you can’t see anymore and the tracks vanish into the horizon, where the land meets the sky. To make the tracks look real in a picture, you would need to create a horizon line, a vanishing point, and visual rays (called orthogonal lines) that converge on the vanishing point (just like the lines of the railroad track). To complete the sense of perspective, artists also used a technique called “foreshortening,” in which objects that are supposed to be in the distance are drawn smaller and smaller the farther away they are supposed to be.
Pietro Perugino painted this fresco in the Sistine Chapel in Rome in about 1481. Called The Delivery of the Keys, it shows Christ giving St. Peter the keys to heaven. It is a powerful example of linear perspective, with the edges of the paving stones on the plaza serving as orthogonal lines and narrowing to the vanishing point near the doorway of the temple. Note the foreshortening of the human figures at different points in the background. (Image via Wikipedia)
To depict the human form realistically was one of the goals of Renaissance artists. At the same time, Renaissance scientists wanted to learn more about human anatomy. This shared interest led to important collaborations between artists and physicians. In fact, two of the most famous artists of the Renaissance—Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo—teamed up with physicians to perform autopsies on dead bodies, so they could learn how muscles and body systems functioned and what lay beneath the human skin. In exchange, the artists demonstrated how to create accurate anatomical drawings so that what was learned from autopsies could be preserved, published, and shared.
One of the most important scientific books of the Renaissance was On the Fabric of Human Anatomy. Published in 1543, it was a seven-volume work by the physician Andreas Visalius and illustrated by one of the students of the great Renaissance painter Titian. Although the primary purpose of On the Fabric of Human Anatomy was to provide an accurate picture of human bones, muscles, and organs, it is filled with anatomical drawings set in odd places. This skeleton appears to be going on a hike in the Alps. (Image via Wikipedia)
Da Vinci took his anatomical studies further than any other artist, filling multiple sketchbooks with his drawings of the human body and pioneering the detailed documentation of dissections from multiple angles. (Image via Wikipedia)
Michelangelo, like most Renaissance artists, was fascinated by the human form. One of his most famous works is David. A 17-foot-high statue of the young shepherd who slayed the giant in the Bible story “David and Goliath,” David is sculpted in his birthday suit out of a massive block of white marble. The oversized form of David is both realistic and detailed, down to the bulging veins in the sculpture’s right hand and the tension in the right leg muscles, as if David is in motion and preparing to hurl a stone at an unseen giant. Commissioned by the leaders of Florence and completed in 1504, the statue of David the giant-killer became a symbol of the city’s independence and the liberty of its citizens.
Michelangelo chose to depict David in the moment before he slayed the giant. Meant to show that David was determined, courageous, and a bit fearful (as David would not know at this point if he would successfully defeat the giant), the marble forehead is tight with worry and concentration. (Image via Wikipedia)
One of the greatest artists of the Renaissance, Michelangelo was constantly in demand—and paid handsomely. But the work he did wasn’t just creative. It was backbreaking. When the pope asked him to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, Michelangelo spent four years standing all day on a scaffold with his neck craned back, while plaster plopped down on his face. The result is one of the most spectacular artworks of the Renaissance. Paintings of scenes from the Bible are framed in paintings of architectural features that look almost real. Angels are painted as if hanging from the rafters—and the whole ceiling appears multidimensional.
The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was completed by Michelangelo in 1512. At a time before there were movies or even photographs, seeing these multidimensional scenes high above must have been overwhelming and even otherworldly. The far wall shows Michelangelo’s The Last Judgment, completed many years later in 1541. Frescoes along the other walls are by various Renaissance artists. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)
One of Michelangelo’s fellow artists, Giorgio Vasari, wrote that after you had seen Michelangelo’s David, you never needed to look at any other sculpture. Vasari was equally thrilled by another Renaissance artwork from around 1506 that, to this day, is one of the most famous paintings in the world: Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
Vasari wrote that the Mona Lisa was so lifelike that if you gazed at the painting long enough, you could see “the beating of the pulse.” Why was the Mona Lisa such a sensation? Why did Vasari say that it caused other painters to “tremble”? In a time before photography, computers, or copiers, Leonardo da Vinci perfected techniques that inspired other painters for hundreds of years to come. For example, instead of a distinct outline, everything in the painting is slightly “smoky” in an attempt to mimic natural light—something Leonardo had learned about in his scientific studies. The face of the Mona Lisa seems to naturally glow due to his microscopic layering of transparent paints. Instead of just foreshortening objects in the distance, Leonardo makes them blurrier as objects get farther away—just as they appear in real life.
Want to know a Renaissance secret? Leonardo worked on the Mona Lisa for years, but he never quite finished it to his own satisfaction. (Just don’t tell the 7 million visitors who go see the Mona Lisa in the Louvre Museum in Paris every year.) (Image via Wikipedia)
The Kennewick Man Finally Freed to Share His Secrets
In the summer of 1996, two college students in Kennewick, Washington, stumbled on a human skull while wading in the shallows along the Columbia River. They called the police. The police brought in the Benton County coroner, Floyd Johnson, who was puzzled by the skull, and he in turn contacted James Chatters, a local archaeologist. Chatters and the coroner returned to the site and, in the dying light of evening, plucked almost an entire skeleton from the mud and sand. They carried the bones back to Chatters’ lab and spread them out on a table.
The skull, while clearly old, did not look Native American. At first glance, Chatters thought it might belong to an early pioneer or trapper. But the teeth were cavity-free (signaling a diet low in sugar and starch) and worn down to the roots—a combination characteristic of prehistoric teeth. Chatters then noted something embedded in the hipbone. It proved to be a stone spearpoint, which seemed to clinch that the remains were prehistoric. He sent a bone sample off for carbon dating. The results: It was more than 9,000 years old.
Thus began the saga of Kennewick Man, one of the oldest skeletons ever found in the Americas and an object of deep fascination from the moment it was discovered. It is among the most contested set of remains on the continents as well. Now, though, after two decades, the dappled, pale brown bones are at last about to come into sharp focus, thanks to a long-awaited, monumental scientific publication next month co-edited by the physical anthropologist Douglas Owsley, of the Smithsonian Institution. No fewer than 48 authors and another 17 researchers, photographers and editors contributed to the 680-page Kennewick Man: The Scientific Investigation of an Ancient American Skeleton (Texas A&M University Press), the most complete analysis of a Paleo-American skeleton ever done.
Kennewick Man: The Scientific Investigation of an Ancient American Skeleton (Peopling of the Americas Publications)
Kennewick Man: The Scientific Investigation of an Ancient American Skeleton (Peopling of the Americas Publications) [Douglas W. Owsley, Richard L. Jantz] on Amazon.com. *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. Almost from the day of its accidental discovery along the banks of the Columbia River in Washington State in July 1996
The book recounts the history of discovery, presents a complete inventory of the bones and explores every angle of what they may reveal. Three chapters are devoted to the teeth alone, and another to green stains thought to be left by algae. Together, the findings illuminate this mysterious man’s life and support an astounding new theory of the peopling of the Americas. If it weren’t for a harrowing round of panicky last-minute maneuvering worthy of a legal thriller, the remains might have been buried and lost to science forever.
The projecting face and nasal architecture (skull cast) are seen among Polynesians. (Grant Delin)
Though buried far inland, Kennewick Man ate marine life and drank glacial meltwater. Analysis of just one of his worn teeth might pin down his childhood home. (Chip Clark / NMNH, SI) “I’ve looked at thousands of skeletons,” says Douglas Owsley. “They were people, and there were people who cared about them.” (Grant Delin) Some 20 years before his death, Kennewick Man took a spearpoint to the hip that remains lodged in his bone. (Grant Delin) Some 20 years before his death, Kennewick Man took a spearpoint to the hip that remains lodged in his bone. (Chip Clark / NMNH, SI) Other injuries include skull fractures, perhaps from rock throwing, and broken ribs that never fully healed. (Chip Clark / NMNH, SI) Other injuries include skull fractures, perhaps from rock throwing, and broken ribs that never fully healed. (Grant Delin) Before eroding out, Kennewick Man lay faceup with his head upstream. Scientists concluded from his position (right, at the discovery site but deeper into the bank) that his body was buried intentionally. ( Photograph by Thomas W. Stafford / Illustration from Douglas Owsley / NMNH, SI) Amanda Danning, Sculptor, from Bay City, Texas doing a facial reconstruction of Kennewick Man September 30, 2009 ( Donald E. Hurlbert / NMNH, SI) Kennewick Man’s bones are arranged in anatomical position by NMNH’s Kari Bruwelheide. This was shot during one of the rare scientific study sessions allowed with the Kennwick skeleton. (Chip Clark / NMNH, SI) Mandible fragment taken during the third scientific study session at the Burke Museum in Seattle, Washington State, and during follow-up studio photography of the stereolithographic cast skull and points at the Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C. (Chip Clark / NMNH, SI) Rib fragments (Chip Clark / NMNH, SI) Bust depicting Kennewick man. (Grant Delin) Bust depicting Kennewick man. (Grant Delin) Dr. Douglas Owsley in his office workspace at NMNH May 29, 2014. Various cases he is examining are spread out on the work space. (Grant Delin) (Chip Clark / NMNH, SI) Rib fragments showing details of the ends. (Chip Clark / NMNH, SI) Kennewick Man pelvis. (Chip Clark / NMNH, SI) Kennewick Man’s bones are arranged in anatomical position by NMNH’s Kari Bruwelheide. (Chip Clark / NMNH, SI)
The storm of controversy erupted when the Army Corps of Engineers, which managed the land where the bones had been found, learned of the radiocarbon date. The corps immediately claimed authority—officials there would make all decisions related to handling and access—and demanded that all scientific study cease. Floyd Johnson protested, saying that as county coroner he believed he had legal jurisdiction. The dispute escalated, and the bones were sealed in an evidence locker at the sheriff’s office pending a resolution.
“At that point,” Chatters recalled to me in a recent interview, “I knew trouble was coming.” It was then that he called Owsley, a curator at the National Museum of Natural History and a legend in the community of physical anthropologists. He has examined well over 10,000 sets of human remains during his long career. He had helped identify human remains for the CIA, the FBI, the State Department and various police departments, and he had worked on mass graves in Croatia and elsewhere. He helped reassemble and identify the dismembered and burned bodies from the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. Later, he did the same with the Pentagon victims of the 9/11 terrorist attack. Owsley is also a specialist in ancient American remains.
“You can count on your fingers the number of ancient, well-preserved skeletons there are” in North America, he told me, remembering his excitement at first hearing from Chatters. Owsley and Dennis Stanford, at that time chairman of the Smithsonian’s anthropology department, decided to pull together a team to study the bones. But corps attorneys showed that federal law did, in fact, give them jurisdiction over the remains. So the corps seized the bones and locked them up at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, often called Battelle for the organization that operates the lab.
Map of Kennewick (Jamie Simon )
At the same time, a coalition of Columbia River Basin Indian tribes and bands claimed the skeleton under a 1990 law known as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA. The tribes demanded the bones for reburial. “Scientists have dug up and studied Native Americans for decades,” a spokesman for the Umatilla tribe, Armand Minthorn, wrote in 1996. “We view this practice as desecration of the body and a violation of our most deeply-held religious beliefs.” The remains, the tribe said, were those of a direct tribal ancestor. “From our oral histories, we know that our people have been part of this land since the beginning of time. We do not believe that our people migrated here from another continent, as the scientists do.” The coalition announced that as soon as the corps turned the skeleton over to them, they would bury it in a secret location where it would never be available to science. The corps made it clear that, after a monthlong public comment period, the tribal coalition would receive the bones.
The tribes had good reason to be sensitive. The early history of museum collecting of Native American remains is replete with horror stories. In the 19th century, anthropologists and collectors looted fresh Native American graves and burial platforms, dug up corpses and even decapitated dead Indians lying on the field of battle and shipped the heads to Washington for study. Until NAGPRA, museums were filled with American Indian remains acquired without regard for the feelings and religious beliefs of native people. NAGPRA was passed to redress this history and allow tribes to reclaim their ancestors’ remains and some artifacts. The Smithsonian, under the National Museum of the American Indian Act, and other museums under NAGPRA, have returned (and continue to return) many thousands of remains to tribes. This is being done with the crucial help of anthropologists and archaeologists—including Owsley, who has been instrumental in repatriating remains from the Smithsonian’s collection. But in the case of Kennewick, Owsley argued, there was no evidence of a relationship with any existing tribes. The skeleton lacked physical features characteristic of Native Americans.
In the weeks after the Army engineers announced they would return Kennewick Man to the tribes, Owsley went to work. “I called and others called the corps. They would never return a phone call. I kept expressing an interest in the skeleton to study it—at our expense. All we needed was an afternoon.” Others contacted the corps, including members of Congress, saying the remains should be studied, if only briefly, before reburial. This was what NAGPRA in fact required: The remains had to be studied to determine affiliation. If the bones showed no affiliation with a present-day tribe, NAGPRA didn’t apply.
But the corps indicated it had made up its mind. Owsley began telephoning his colleagues. “I think they’re going to rebury this,” he said, “and if that happens, there’s no going back. It’s gone."
Photos of the Ainu people of Japan, thought to be among his closest living relatives, were inspiration for Kennewick Man’s reconstruction. (National Anthropological Archives ) Photos of the Ainu people of Japan, thought to be among his closest living relatives, were inspiration for Kennewick Man’s reconstruction. (National Anthropological Archives ) Photos of the Ainu people of Japan, thought to be among his closest living relatives, were inspiration for Kennewick Man’s reconstruction. (Dr. George Monatandon / Au Pays des Ainou ) After muscle and tissue were sculpted, added creases aged the eyes. (Donald E. Hurlbert / NMNH, SI)
So Owsley and several of his colleagues found an attorney, Alan Schneider. Schneider contacted the corps and was also rebuffed. Owsley suggested they file a lawsuit and get an injunction. Schneider warned him: “If you’re going to sue the government, you better be in it for the long haul.”
Owsley assembled a group of eight plaintiffs, prominent physical anthropologists and archaeologists connected to leading universities and museums. But no institution wanted anything to do with the lawsuit, which promised to attract negative attention and be hugely expensive. They would have to litigate as private citizens. “These were people,” Schneider said to me later, “who had to be strong enough to stand the heat, knowing that efforts might be made to destroy their careers. And efforts were made.”
When Owsley told his wife, Susan, that he was going to sue the government of the United States, her first response was: “Are we going to lose our home?” He said he didn’t know. “I just felt,” Owsley told me in a recent interview, “this was one of those extremely rare and important discoveries that come once in a lifetime. If we lost it”—he paused. “Unthinkable.”
Working like mad, Schneider and litigating partner Paula Barran filed a lawsuit. With literally hours to go, a judge ordered the corps to hold the bones until the case was resolved.
When word got out that the eight scientists had sued the government, criticism poured in, even from colleagues. The head of the Society for American Archaeology tried to get them to drop the lawsuit. Some felt it would interfere with the relationships they had built with Native American tribes. But the biggest threat came from the Justice Department itself. Its lawyers contacted the Smithsonian Institution warning that Owsley and Stanford might be violating “criminal conflict of interest statutes which prohibit employees of the United States” from making claims against the government.
“I operate on a philosophy,” Owsley told me, “that if they don’t like it, I’m sorry: I’m going to do what I believe in.” He had wrestled in high school and, even though he often lost, he earned the nickname “Scrapper” because he never quit. Stanford, a husky man with a full beard and suspenders, had roped in rodeos in New Mexico and put himself through graduate school by farming alfalfa. They were no pushovers. “The Justice Department squeezed us really, really hard,” Owsley recalled. But both anthropologists refused to withdraw, and the director of the National Museum of Natural History at the time, Robert W. Fri, strongly supported them even over the objections of the Smithsonian’s general counsel. The Justice Department backed off.
Owsley and his group were eventually forced to litigate not just against the corps, but also the Department of the Army, the Department of the Interior and a number of individual government officials. As scientists on modest salaries, they could not begin to afford the astronomical legal bills. Schneider and Barran agreed to work for free, with the faint hope that they might, someday, recover their fees. In order to do that they would have to win the case and prove the government had acted in “bad faith”—a nearly impossible hurdle. The lawsuit dragged on for years. “We never expected them to fight so hard,” Owsley says. Schneider says he once counted 93 government attorneys directly involved in the case or cc’ed on documents.
Meanwhile, the skeleton, which was being held in trust by the corps, first at Battelle and later at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture at the University of Washington in Seattle, was badly mishandled and stored in “substandard, unsafe conditions,” according to the scientists. In the storage area where the bones were (and are) being kept at the Burke Museum, records show there have been wide swings in temperature and humidity that, the scientists say, have damaged the specimen. When Smithsonian asked about the scientists’ concerns, the corps disputed that the environment is unstable, pointing out that expert conservators and museum personnel say that “gradual changes are to be expected through the seasons and do not adversely affect the collection.”
Somewhere in the move to Battelle, large portions of both femurs disappeared. The FBI launched an investigation, focusing on James Chatters and Floyd Johnson. It even went so far as to give Johnson a lie detector test after several hours of accusatory questioning, Johnson, disgusted, pulled off the wires and walked out. Years later, the femur bones were found in the county coroner’s office. The mystery of how they got there has never been solved.
The scientists asked the corps for permission to examine the stratigraphy of the site where the skeleton had been found and to look for grave goods. Even as Congress was readying a bill to require the corps to preserve the site, the corps dumped a million pounds of rock and fill over the area for erosion control, ending any chance of research.
I asked Schneider why the corps so adamantly resisted the scientists. He speculated that the corps was involved in tense negotiations with the tribes over a number of thorny issues, including salmon fishing rights along the Columbia River, the tribes’ demand that the corps remove dams and the ongoing, hundred-billion-dollar cleanup of the vastly polluted Hanford nuclear site. Schneider says that a corps archaeologist told him “they weren’t going to let a bag of old bones get in the way of resolving other issues with the tribes.”
Asked about its actions in the Kennewick Man case, the corps told Smithsonian: “The United States acted in accordance with its interpretation of NAGPRA and its concerns about the safety and security of the fragile, ancient human remains.”
Ultimately, the scientists won the lawsuit. The court ruled in 2002 that the bones were not related to any living tribe: thus NAGPRA did not apply. The judge ordered the corps to make the specimen available to the plaintiffs for study. The government appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which in 2004 again ruled resoundingly in favor of the scientists, writing:
About Douglas Preston
Douglas Preston is a journalist and author, renowned for his best-selling suspense novels co-authored by Lincoln Child, such as Cold Vengeance. He has also written or co-written The Lost Island, White Fire, The Kraken Project and Cities of Gold.
'Steal Your Face' lightning skull
Without question, the single most recognized image for the band, even more so than Garcia's face probably, is the "Steal Your Face" design. Also commonly referred to as the "lightning skull," the concept was born out of necessity, really. The group's longtime sound engineer (and noted LSD chemist) Owsley "Bear" Stanley needed an easily identifiable symbol for the band's gear when it was jammed in with other boxes and cases in backstage areas, according to the beloved companion-slash-chemist. After being inspired by a boldly-marked, dual-colored freeway sign, he discussed his ideas for a spray paint-ready stencil with Bob Thomas, a graphic designer friend of his. While the original thought basically consisted of a circle with a clear delineation between one blue side and one red side, the lightning bolt and the skull aspects came about as the brainstorming continued, Owsley writes.
The lightning skull became a part of popular Dead lore when it appeared on the inside gate-fold cover of 1970 self-titled LP. That record's front cover features Stanley "Mouse" Miller's "rose skeleton" design that some fans argue belongs in any serious conversation of Grateful Dead art (so here it is!). Though the creation of the lightning skull design seems rather benign and functional, its overall meaning has soared above its humble origins. Some seem to think the 13-point lightning bolt represents the original American colonies while others think it represents the 13-step process to creating LSD, if you are to take message board scuttlebutt seriously, that is. There are theories floating around that the bolt signifies the transformative powers of nature's all-consuming strength.
Egyptian art and architecture
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Egyptian art and architecture, the ancient architectural monuments, sculptures, paintings, and applied crafts produced mainly during the dynastic periods of the first three millennia bce in the Nile valley regions of Egypt and Nubia. The course of art in Egypt paralleled to a large extent the country’s political history, but it depended as well on the entrenched belief in the permanence of the natural, divinely ordained order. Artistic achievement in both architecture and representational art aimed at the preservation of forms and conventions that were held to reflect the perfection of the world at the primordial moment of creation and to embody the correct relationship between humankind, the king, and the pantheon of the gods. For this reason, Egyptian art appears outwardly resistant to development and the exercise of individual artistic judgment, but Egyptian artisans of every historical period found different solutions for the conceptual challenges posed to them.
For the purposes of definition, “ancient Egyptian” is essentially coterminous with pharaonic Egypt, the dynastic structure of Egyptian history, artificial though it may partly be, providing a convenient chronological framework. The distinctive periods are: Predynastic (c. 6th millennium bce –c. 2925 bce ) Early Dynastic (1st–3rd dynasties, c. 2925–c. 2575 bce ) Old Kingdom (4th–8th dynasties, c. 2575–c. 2130 bce ) First Intermediate (9th–11th dynasties, c. 2130–1939 bce ) Middle Kingdom (12th–14th dynasties, 1938–c. 1630 bce ) Second Intermediate (15th–17th dynasties, c. 1630–1540 bce ) New Kingdom (18th–20th dynasties, 1539–1075 bce ) Third Intermediate (21st–25th dynasties, c. 1075–656 bce ) and Late (26th–31st dynasties, 664–332 bce ).
Geographical factors were predominant in forming the particular character of Egyptian art. By providing Egypt with the most predictable agricultural system in the ancient world, the Nile afforded a stability of life in which arts and crafts readily flourished. Equally, the deserts and the sea, which protected Egypt on all sides, contributed to this stability by discouraging serious invasion for almost 2,000 years. The desert hills were rich in minerals and fine stones, ready to be exploited by artists and craftspeople. Only good wood was lacking, and the need for it led the Egyptians to undertake foreign expeditions to Lebanon, to Somalia, and, through intermediaries, to tropical Africa. In general, the search for useful and precious materials determined the direction of foreign policy and the establishment of trade routes and led ultimately to the enrichment of Egyptian material culture. For further treatment, see Egypt Middle Eastern religions, ancient.
The Sculpture Garden through Time
In 1939, at 11 West 53rd Street, a sculpture garden was hastily integrated into plans for the first permanent home of The Museum of Modern Art it was designed in just a single night by Museum director Alfred H. Barr Jr. and curator of Architecture John McAndrew for the adjacent lot. Bringing nature, art, and architecture together in a then-novel way, the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden has since become a fixture in midtown Manhattan, a green oasis in a bustling but admittedly gray metropolis. The Sculpture Garden has seen many transformations, parties, concerts, installations, and even Happenings. Over the years, the Museum’s outdoor gallery ended up being a space for activities that would have tested the more staid protocols of the galleries inside. We gathered a few memorable moments below on the occasion of this week’s Virtual Views: Sculpture Garden. And for more on how these episodes fit into the Museum’s history, be sure to check out our interactive site, MoMA through Time.
Installation view of Exhibition House by Gregory Ain, May 17–October 29, 1950
1950: Houses in the Garden
When the design for MoMA’s Sculpture Garden was first conceived by Alfred Barr and John McAndrew in 1939, they envisioned the space as an outdoor gallery for changing exhibitions, a pioneering concept that established a new genre in art exhibition. Over the years, the Sculpture Garden hosted a dynamic range of shows, such as the presentation of life-size houses in the 1940s and ’50s.
The first of these were two modern architects’ takes on affordable-yet-stylish housing solutions responding to the demands of the postwar housing boom, which saw droves of people moving to the suburbs. In 1949, a two-bedroom domicile designed by Marcel Breuer was installed. Breuer had trained at the Bauhaus, a prewar German multidisciplinary arts school that was known for its utopian ideals and streamlined, functional designs. Slated as a “country home for the commuter,” and featuring a V-shaped roof and glass walls, Breuer’s design could be expanded or modified depending on the needs of its tenants. The following year, MoMA invited Gregory Ain, another socially minded modern architect, to erect a house in its garden. Ain contributed a three-bedroom house fitted with sliding walls that allowed for a flexible floor plan. The garden’s third house, installed in 1954, was adaptable in a different way. As part of a series of shows celebrating Japanese design, MoMA exhibited a wooden house in the style of 17th-century Japanese temple architecture. First built in Nagoya, Japan, it was disassembled and then sent by ship to New York, where it was reconstructed under supervision of the architect Junzo Yoshimura.
Installation view of Ten Automobiles, September 15–October 4, 1953
1951: Cars in the Garden
“Automobiles are hollow, rolling sculpture,” Arthur Drexler wrote in 1951. Recently hired as a curator of architecture and design at MoMA, Drexler penned the line for his introduction to 8 Automobiles, the first exhibition dedicated to automotive design to be staged by an art museum. In 1950s America—when automania was sweeping the country in tandem with the postwar manufacturing boom—Drexler was not alone in his enthrallment. The display for 8 Automobiles featured several vehicles parked on an elevated roadway installed in the first floor galleries, with the pathway extending into the Sculpture Garden, where cars were protected from the elements by a canvas awning. Among the vehicles on display were an American military Jeep, an Italian Cisitalia sports car, and a British Bentley, all of which were selected for “their excellence as works of art and for their relevance to contemporary problems of passenger car design.” While these cars were loaned, in 1972 MoMA would begin collecting “rolling sculptures” of its own with the acquisition of a 1946 Cisitalia—becoming the first art museum ever to do so. Drexler would curate two more car exhibitions during his 35-year tenure at the Museum: Ten Automobiles in 1953, and The Racing Car: Toward a Rational Automobile in 1966.
East view of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden, 1953
1953: Oasis in the City
When the Museum’s flagship building opened in 1939, its Sculpture Garden was a “happy improvisation” by John McAndrew and Alfred Barr. Although neither were experienced landscape designers, the pair hastily designed the first iteration of the Sculpture Garden when the Museum was unexpectedly given the adjoining lot to its new building. McAndrew and Barr’s Sculpture Garden was conceived as an outdoor gallery for changing installations and was a largely open space defined by curvilinear gravel paths.
In 1953, the Sculpture Garden was completely redesigned by Philip Johnson, the first director of MoMA’s architecture department, in honor of one of MoMA’s founders, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, who had recently passed away (and for whom the Sculpture Garden was renamed). Imagining the space as a “roofless room,” Johnson created four distinct asymmetrical, marble-paved areas for displaying sculpture. The placement of steps, bridges, plantings, and pools subtly directed the flow of visitors. The revamped Sculpture Garden also featured a rich variety of trees, flowers, and shrubs, and wood-and-brass gates that opened to the street.
Johnson returned once again to the drawing board in 1964, designing a building-wide expansion that introduced a new east wing and enlarged the Sculpture Garden, adding an elevated platform that accommodated larger installations, as well as spaces for exhibitions and education classrooms underneath (this platform has since been demolished and replaced).
A still from John Cassavetes’s Shadows (1959)
1959: Filmmakers Find a Backdrop
Shadows, John Cassavetes’s directorial debut, centers on the life of three African American siblings—all musicians—in New York City. A pioneering work of American indie cinema, the film brings the Big Apple’s vibrant art scenes to life, and a romantic misadventure provides a glimpse of the racial dynamics of the time. One scene brings the characters to MoMA to discuss the meaning of art and what its interpretation can offer. As Rajendra Roy, the Celeste Bartos Chief Curator of Film, recently told us, “Cassavetes did approach the Museum with his intention or desire to shoot here, and the Museum was kind of, like, go for it but don’t get in the way. It wasn’t a big officially sanctioned shoot, but it also wasn’t totally covert.” Cassavetes would not be the last filmmaker to choose the museum as a backdrop for storytelling. More recently, films like The Adjustment Bureau and The Meyerowitz Stories have shot scenes at MoMA as well.
1960: Self-Destructing Art
"It’s a machine… it’s a sculpture, it’s a picture… it’s a song, it’s an accompanist, it’s a poet, it’s a declaration—this machine is a situation." It was with these phrases that sculptor Jean Tinguely, standing in the Sculpture Garden before an audience of some 250 people—among them New York governor and Museum president Nelson Rockefeller, as well as reporters and television crews—introduced the kinetic work Homage to New York. Tinguely had created the sculpture with objects largely rummaged from New Jersey garbage dumps—bicycle wheels, a weather balloon, old motors, a player piano, metal drums, a label-maker, a miniature go-kart, a bathtub—all covered in a coat of white paint. The sculpture was conceived with the express purpose of self-destruction. To achieve this end, Tinguely collaborated with Billy Klüver, an engineer from Bell Labs, and a team of others including the artist Robert Rauschenberg. Homage was detonated on the night of its premiere, March 17, 1960, erupting in flames and colored smoke to a symphony of percussive noises from the piano and clanging metal. When a section broke off and crashed into a camera crew, a firefighter intervened and extinguished the flames, finishing off Homage with an axe afterward. Artist Robert Breer filmed the activation and explosion of Homage to New York, and you can watch the film online (above) from May 7 to 10 as part of this week’s Virtual Views.
In an essay published in The Nation a week later, Klüver wrote, “Just as in every moment we see and experience a new and changing world, Jean’s machine created and destroyed itself as a representation of a moment in our lives.” Tinguely’s device memorialized a moment that was already gone, as the machine age had receded into the ever-distant past and the atomic era was in full force.
Yayoi Kusama’s performance Grand Orgy to Awaken the Dead, 1969
1969: Yayoi Kusama’s Grand Orgy in the Garden
“But Is It Art?” This tongue-in-cheek question attended the caption to a front-page photo of the August 25, 1969, issue of the Daily News, in which naked people stand in a fountain in the Sculpture Garden. In the photo, a crowd of visitors—and one exasperated security guard—observe the nude bathers in equal parts confusion and awe, as a lone woman faces away from the scene. This was Yayoi Kusama, the artist who orchestrated the event.
Kusama had first moved to New York in 1958, immersing herself in a range of creative production that included large-scale paintings, installations, and “Happenings.” Happenings were often impromptu, theatrical in nature, and involved audience participation. For Kusama’s unauthorized 1969 Happening, Grand Orgy to Awaken the Dead at MoMA, the artist instructed the stark naked performers to embrace each other while playfully engaging the sculptures around them. By staging a bacchanalian romp among live humans and static sculptural forms—many of which were nude figures by deceased artists, such as French sculptor Aristide Maillol, creator of the reclining figure *The River*—Kusama critiqued MoMA as a repository for “dead” art in need of more living artists’ activations. She would again make a splash at the Museum almost three decades later with her 1998 survey Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama 1958–1968.
The Sculpture Garden hosted “Robert Moog and the Moog Synthesizer Concert-Demonstration,” an evening of music centered around the first-ever live performances on the Moog modular synthesizer, changing the course of music history and influencing decades of future instrument design. Described by the press as “alien” and like “a fox let loose in a chicken shack,” the sounds of the Moog synthesizer filled the Sculpture Garden during the final event of the 1969 Jazz in the Garden concert series. Critic Greer Johnson wrote that “the ‘demonstration’ of Robert Moog’s synthesizer at MoMA…had all the musical persuasiveness of lobotomized Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey singing ‘On a Bicycle Built for Two.’”
On the night of the concert, roughly 4,000 people—quadruple the attendance of previous events—jammed into the Sculpture Garden, climbing onto sculptures and into trees to get a better view. According to a review in Audio magazine, “Following a few preparatory bleeps, hoots, and grunts, the musicians swung into a pleasantly melodic four-movement suite…. At various times, sounds were reminiscent of trumpet, flute, saxophone, harpsichord, accordion and several varieties of drum, but, in general, one was content to listen to the music on its own terms, without trying to draw any comparisons with conventional instrumentation.”
To read more about this event, check out our article “Sounds from Outer
Space: The Moog at MoMA.”
View of the concert performance Robert Moog and the Moog Synthesizer, part of the Jazz in the Garden series, August 28, 1969
Day of the Dead Art
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Day of the Dead Art is the name given to all the folk art figures, handicrafts and souvenirs made for this celebration or as a consequence of it.
Day of the Dead Handicrafts
The Day of the Dead celebrations are in many areas of Mexico the most important of the year.
The celebration turns around the visit of the souls to this world from the world of the dead and its main objective is to make them feel welcomed and cherished.
The Day of the Dead Altars are therefore the most important element in the holiday and many crafts are specially made to decorate it.
Examples of these handicrafts are the skulls and skeletons chiseled paper flags, the clay candleholders and sahumerios (incense burners), cempasuchil paper flowers and the sugar skulls that although they are eatable are nonetheless a work of art.
Day of the Dead Folk Art
The folk art developed as a consequence of Day of the Dead cannot be understood without Jose Guadalupe Posada's legacy.
Posada (1852-1913), was a lithographer and print maker in Mexico's pre-Revolution times.
He is best known for the creation of La Calaca Garbancera, that later became La Catrina, the iconic skeleton lady used during the Day of the Dead celebrations.
He is considered by scholars the father of Mexican modern art and inherited the next generations of artists a new way of expressing the Mexican culture.
Folk artists from around the country have followed Posada steps successfully using his artistic style to portray the Mexicans intimate relationship with death.
Day of the Dead Folk Art Styles
The following are among the most representative and successful styles nowadays: