Can we understand Van Eyck or Is there some mystery behind The Arnolfini Marriage’s portrait?

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Behind the curtains of one of the most prominent pieces of art ever made, stood one uncertainty and even mysterious allurement towards it. The piece of art under question is The Arnolfini Marriage by Jan van Eyck, produced around 1434.
According to the art historian Ernst Gombrich that portrait as he said it “in its own way it was as new and revolutionary as Donatello’s or Masaccio’s work in Italy. A simple corner of the real world had suddenly been fixed on to a panel as if by magic … For the first time in history the artist became the perfect eye-witness in the truest sense of the term”
Indeed, the revolutionary spectacle in the form of art is even more that blatantly obvious, with its religious symbolism, the mirror as a weapon to reflect the space and its domesticated atmosphere making us witnesses to moment of utmost importance – a marriage as the vast majority of the art historians agree upon it.
The picture is a portrait of Italian merchant Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and possibly his wife,presumably in their home in the Flemish city of Bruges. However, the thing that captivates the mind of many people is what exactly all the objects represent and whether there is some secret buried within the picture. Is there a puzzle or it’s only production of our lack of understanding of one piece of art aiming merely to represent the distant reality as it was?
The fruits
The casually scattered and illuminated by the day light oranges capture our attention, even if we try to ignore them. Some art historians adhere to the idea that they are sheer representation of wealth as in that time to have an oranges was a luxury. By contrast, another assume that they possess religious meaning, strictly related with the garden of Eden, telling as that the first sin, the sin of consumption is done. But why were they not apples? Or Eyck wanted a much more subtle representation of that symbol. Probably, it could be both.
The hand gesture
Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini’’s hand gesture could be interpreted in many ways as well. According to elaborate research on the layers of the picture, Van Eyck made an several correction of the position of the hand. Many people agree that in that way Giovanni could be given his marriage’s promise to his future wife. Nevertheless, the gesture itself is so familiar to us from iconic Christians form of art, that it could be considered indeed as blessing, but to whom. In addition, Giovonni face is represented in rather melancholic seriousness, did he bless his wife holding her one hand while his right hand pointed towards the Heaven or not.

The chandelier
That element couldn’t be missed, it’s captured in the most clear way possible imagined. The chandelier and the lack of kindle above Giovanni’s wife could be interpreted only as a death or untimely demise and loss. Therefore, we could see how the image of the death and the birth intertwined into each other in the picture. From the posture of the woman we are able to speculate about her pregnancy, despite the fact that at that time those kind of dress was widely worn. However, her hand’s gesture of protection is much more reassuring than anything else, she placed her hand in front of her belly while giving her right hand in the palm of her husband, looking at him in submissive peaceful manner.
The mirror
The most fascinating object in the whole picture, we shouldn’t dismiss it. On the edges of the glass are illustrated ten series of Passion of Christ, another religious connection. But the most interesting part is hidden from our eyes and we are in power only to speculate about the glass’s reflection, which could be the key to the meaning of the painting. In general, the concave mirrors become symbol of mysticism and some secret invisible to the naked eyes. As we could see there two figures entering the room in which the man and woman stood, but who are they. The artist himself and a priest maybe or someone else, nobody knows for sure. However, the sensation that those two figures are welcoming rather than referred as intruders could only fuse the speculation of some anticipation something to be on the verge of happening.
Finally, we should bear in mind the fact that it was discovered that before the picture was finished or even made the woman on it had died. So practically , this is representation of both wedding ceremony and idealized farewell to her, as a form of giving the last blessing before the departure to the afterlife.

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1848- no revolution for Germany

The 19th century Europe witnessed waves of turmoil crushing across the surface of the continent, making fundamental changes which would have bearing in years to come.

It makes little difference if we take into consideration events such as the French revolution, the July revolution or the outburst of the nationalism, which was simply an result of the former, we couldn’t deny how that century brought radical changes for many people and nations. However, not everything ran so smoothly, as that radical change in some places failed miserably to perform its duty, some places were not even half ready for it and the people, as we could see later, were unable to embrace the basic premise of it. These places were Italy and Germany and in this article we will see what went wrong with the revolution of 1848 in the latter.

First of all, the main obstacle standing was the biggest fracture between the middle and working class in Germany, but they had to be the driving wheel in the revolution. The middle class was largely comprised of f merchants, bankers, and other professional occupations who profited from new business ventures and the wealth created by them. In addition to it, they were highly educated people, obtaining their degree from the universities across the country. The ideology they supported was the liberalism, which roots could be traced back by the ideas of Enlightenment. The latter extents its ideas in a notion that everyone should be given an opportunity to express their capabilities regardless their social status within the society while the liberal middle class in Germany only wanted to make profit without being disturbed by the government. What a witty thought! To top it all, the middle class didn’t want another meddler in their businesses, especially if it was someone from the working class. Moreover, they considered the middle class as people inferior to them, lacking the natural capability and educational knowledge to interfere in the economic or political life.

On the other side, there was another strong movement called ‘socialism ‘ which represented the working class or the proletariat. They too wanted control and means of power in their hands, but they were in contradiction with the liberals of the middle class as we stated above. Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels depicted explicitly clear the heart of the socialism movement in their The Communist Manifesto. However, they spend most of the time as mere distant witnesses of their dream, they were away from Germany to see the real prospect of the revolution and the struggle between the two classes which collapsed in universal dominance for power, not being able to compromise with one another, certainly not being able to see eye to eye with one another.

But the complexity of the situation didn’t end here, after the Napoleonic Era German was left in chaos with its survival states , from which it was needed to be created something much more stable with firm grounds. The solution was German Confederation, which was consisted of thirty –five states and five independent cities. By far the most strongest one was Prussia, the major aim of the confederation was creating conditions for further interaction among the states and mutual stability. For many people that was the first of the many steps ahead towards unified Germany , they, socialist and liberals, embraced the idea whole-heartedly having hoped for better future.

Nevertheless , all of it was only pipe dreams as soon a1848 Revolutions the real consolidation of power was in the hands of one person : the Kaiser, Frederick William IV (1840-1861). He was the person who made absolutely everything to stifle any attempt (imaginary or real) for something different from conservative government. Having been supported by Prussian Junkers and the nobility, whose influence and prestige hinge on him, he was almost invisible before the mob’s wishes and desires for brighter future.
Moreover, Klemens Lothar, Prince von Metternich (1773-1859), the foreign minister of the Austrian Empire dedicated his life in fighting any form of liberalism , which he had the pleasure to encounter. For example, after 1818 he imposed censorship on the universities , which ventured on bring about any kind of liberal ideas, the lectors’ presentations and materials were scanned and undertook strict control. Shortly after that, there was a newspaper restriction of certain materials, uniforms with the national colours were almost obligatory .

Finally, we need to take into account only one factor in order to finish this brief account of the unsuccessful revolution. Between 1815 and 1848 there was a massive wave of industrialization in Germany and the plight of it didn’t miss the opportunity to affect the people there. Here we don’t place our attention to the Fourteen hour days labour, arduous one, but we need to take into account the full overuse of childrens’and women labour , with the countless number of incidents and every minute struggle for survival . The working class was exhaustively tired, on the edge of their existence and struggling to subsist on minimal wages and many hours of working. While ,we had the middle class which own struggle was of different nature, they wanted the power and fought for their ideas while the former fought for their bread.

Mongols in Russia – two major changes they brought

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Throughout the course of the history of every nation, there are many subcultures and tribal societies which later form a whole new society into one body. Russia is far from being an exception from the rule. Being a massive empire, Russia and its society were in close proximity of being under the influence of many cultures, within and outside the empire’s territory. Therefore, it would be reasonable for us to consider the influence of one another large empire- the Mongol empire and its significant heritage which was imparted on the Russian during the 13th century.

It was the time of the first half of the 13 century, which precisely was 1219, when the Mongols made their first appearance near the Kievan Russia. Those year, was part of the long chain of troubles,which took place in Russian society. The empire was divided among different tribes, one of the most powerful of them was the Polovts, which were struggling for power and authority. The Mongols arrived as an opposition against the abovementioned tribe, which was seeking the Rus princes council in order their power to be officially accepted. Here, there is highly controversial information, which states that according to the historical records, despite being apprehensive regarding the situation, the Mongols did not practice any kind of violence or harm the Russian people in any possible way. Moreover, the Mongols’ aims towards Russia encompassed only peaceful intentions, but the Russian Kiev did not embrace that whole-heartedly, quite the opposite they mistrusted the new-comers. That was enough to destroy the good intentions of the former, adding that the Mongol emissaries were assassinated by Russian soldiers.

Consequently, Russia had to pay the prise of its mistrust with nothing,but blood. Within the period of 20 years, Batu Khan took his armies throughout the Russian territory, and one by one the principalities such as Ryazan, Moscow, Vladimir, Suzdal were subdued to his power. Innumerous is the number of the people who were slaughtered, captured or tortured as a result of it. Sooner, Kiev was sacked and almost destroyed under Batu’s power. Those bloody events led to inevitability of change which took place in the Russian history, culture, art, society and religion. It seems as if every major chance takes place in the form of violence and later submission.

The Church

In such a turbulent times, without political or any form of social entity, the church represented the only beacon of hope for the Russian people. That was the moment, which led to the straightening the church authority almost everywhere in the empire, it was the rebirth of the new independent body whose objectives were to impose larger control. For the first time, the Orthodox Church was not dependent on princely power and was expelled from being subject of dominance by both Mongols and Russian aristocracy. If someone dared to do the opposite, there was only one penalty –death.

People initially held the widespread belief that the Mongols were send to them in response to their sins and they would be punished for all the indulgences which they practiced. It was more as a psychological response to the shock they encountered after being treated in such an atrocious way by the invaders. The people turned their souls and hearts to the only possible crumb of comfort they were able to find at that time – their faith.

Following that, the main mission of the Orthodox Church gathered momentum while luring more and more people to its convention. Prompting the radical spread of Christianity within the wide territories of Russia and exterminating the last traces of pagan practices.

Last,but not least, after Mongol invasion, the Church encountered another fundamental change. Before that, the major eclectical center of the Holy See was in Kiev, then it was moved to Vladimir in 1299 before finally took its place in Moscow, which boosted the significance of the town even more.

Moscow

Speaking of this great town,it is somewhat ambiguous how it remained almost hundred year in shadows after it’s founded in 1147. Moscow is a town with perfect location, suited on the point of three major roads which interlinked it with Kiev. Moreover, the location predisposes to trade due to the Moscow river which connects itself with Oka and Volga rivers.

At the time of the Mongols’dominance, Tver and Moscow were in battle for power, which escalated in 1327 with the rebellion of the former town. That was a perfect opportunity for Prince Ivan I of Moscow to gain prominence in the eyes of Mongol overlords, he putted end to the riots in Tver. This was the first step forward for Moscow to thrive as later the Mongols granted the town to be responsible for tax-collection duties across the countryside. Thus led to major fundamental change in the consolidated power and influence, Moscow made its major turning point in being place of dominance in Russia.

However, the following years were not peaceful ones, as there were series of battles between Prince Dmitrii and the Mongol khans as the both powers crashed into one another in devastating battles, trying to gain greater influence over one another. Everything started in 1376 when Dmitrii attacked successfully Kazan khanate , by that Russia openly questioned not for the first time the Mongols’ dominance. Despite the devastating loss of 100,000 men, Dmitrii defeated the mongol’s general Mamai, making for himself a place in the history as Dmitrii Donskoi (of the Don).

The oldest calendar in the world

The oldest calendar in the world

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The oldest calendar in the word belongs to the Bulgars , one of the tribes ‘ people who created the country in the east Europe –Bulgaria. The bulgars’ calendar is proclaimed from UNESCO as the most accurate in the world with its almost inconceivable precisions . The scholars are on the opinion that this calendar was created in 2350 BC,but some of them adhere to the opinion that the accurate year might be 5505 BC, which if it is true , should reveal the possibility of the Bulgarian calendar to be a root stock of the Chinese’s calendar.

The calendar was a solar based, in reverse to the Chinese calendar based on the moon, which explains the fact why every new year’s beginning was dated on 22th of December , the day of the winter solstice. This day was not included in the calendar as a part of none of the seasons in it, it was somewhat independent day or zero-day. The rest of the days (364) were distributed into four different Parts (with each part included in itself three mouths). Quite interesting is the fact that due to that allocation, every new season used to start on Sunday- the first day of the Bulgars’ week. Moreover, the calendar was inflicted by the Jupiter revolution around the Sun  and it’s cyclic.

Like the whole cycle of one year, which fundamentally was consisted of 12 parts, the Bulgars’ calendar had a similar cycle of 12 years. The first year was the year of the mouse ( the years ran in that order – 1.Mouse ,2.-cow , 3-Ox, 4-tigger/wolf, 5-rabbit,6-dragon,7-snake,8-horse,9- monkey,10-ram,11-rooster, 12-pig). Speaking of the precision of the calendar divided the night in 12 hours as the day, too.

The calendar was used not only as an instrument of measurement, but also as grounds of identity with its structure in which you could see how the beginning and the end were part of the immense eternity. It was a weapon for the Bulgars to measure the history and how different things happened throughout it. The calendar is also an ample evidence of the advance knowledge of the Bulgars in astronomy and mensuration. As a matter of fact, much more information about how the calendar worked could be trace in the name list of the Bulgarians khans, a book of immense importance which indicates how one each ruler reigned.

Referring back to the Chinese’s calendar it’s worth saying that in the Bulgar calendar, the sequence of the elements is water, fire, earth, tree, metal; the sequence in the Chinese is – tree, fire, earth, metal and water. Another oddly interesting difference between the two calendars is that the former had a leap day while the later had (and still has) a leap mouth.

 

 

 

 

The bloody thirsty Aztecs

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The Aztec might have been great civilisation with rich culture and beautiful art or even great empire, but for the many people they conjure up an image of atrociously violence and blood life-sacrifices. Indeed , what they left behind them could not be dismissed as something ordinary, it was massive massacre tantamount to the violence of world war II or even beyond.

As a mother of fact, it was estimated that around 20 000 people were sacrificed each year , some voluntarily ,others driven by force. The place where the so-called ‘rituals’took place were the massive temples ,most important of which was the Templo Mayor placed in the capital of the Empire –Tenochtitlan.  The most disturbing thing relating the whole chains of the rituals was not the idea of sacrifice itself, as many other civilisations used that method, but the very core of the meaning of that ritual for the Aztec’s people.  For the Europeans and for the Spanish conquistadors was unimaginably inconceivable to comprehend the beliefs behind which stands that inhumane practices. For the Aztecs the world was created by gods , they were powerful and needed to be pleased , therefore the best way of doing so was to sacrifice your life. For them , it was almost point of honour to do so, as not only to appease and praise the Gods ,but to be chosen for that purpose.

The most common bloody rituals was known as the heart sacrifice , which practice involved ripping the heart of person still alive and giving the beating heart to the Gods. After the heart is being torn out of someone’s chest ,his body was thrown away down the temple, where someone would cut the victim’s head could be displayed on a skull rack. Very often , parts of the victims ‘s body were eaten by the priests or the most important people within the society, by doing so they believed to be much closer to the gods. From that , it came the so called myth about the cannibalism amoung the Aztec’s society.

The priests were the ones who chose the victims and how often the sacrifice should be performed , they were in plenty in every Aztec ‘s city , for instance it was estimated that in Tenochtitlan alone they were five thousands priests . They painted their bodies in black as a representation of war and religion, to tap it all they poured blood from the victims on their hair.

Another typical ritual was the actual human sacrifice ,which took place in the name of god Huehueteotl- the God of warmth, death and cold – who was responsible for the light in the darkness (probably the stars and the moon in the sky) and for the food in time of famine. The victim was thrown into fire ,then just before reaching the point of dying was taken in with a hook , his heart was removed and put into the fire alone. And yet, the sacrifice was not restricted only to men ,but it was imposed upon women and children . For instance, the Aztecs were on the opinion that the tears of the new-born children were exceptionally priceless and could appease the god of rain ( Tlaloc) and he would in return give them rain.

The brutality of the Aztecs’ rituals could not have revolted the Spanish armies or any other European nation. It’s the difference between the psychological context and the impact of these bloodlettings ,which prevent us from understanding that culture. However, one is truth for sure, every big empire has its flaw and once that flaw is out , nothing could stop it from collapsing.

The Stuarts’ nightmare

 

 

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Well,  one of the most scandalous and infamous European royal houses during the middle ages without doubt , is the Stuarts. But the thing behind that famous vision is hidden behind a series of unfortunate events, one after another or in some cases even in the same time. Some of them are held in custody, another are too young for rule, third are beheaded and so on. In this article, we will explore the most unpleasant of the pleasantries they had the luck to encounter during their rule. Ready? Buckle up for a very dramatic series of infortunes!

The founder : Robert II (1316-1390) –he was the first king of Scotland from the Stuart dynasty. The first and not the last ,indeed, but the way to the throne was not a smooth one. His mother was Marjorie Bruce (daughter of Robert Bruce, who had become Robert I of Scotland in 1306). We couldn’t deny his claims to the crown, but in 1324 Robert Bruce’s son was born (named David II).Hence, Robert took the king’s regent role, but not for too long! Under mysterious circumstances, Robert fled the battle of Neville’s Cross in 1343 with English,on which the king was taken prisoner. Finally, in 11 long years Robert was king regent again! Unfortunately for him, the english announced a ransom for the scotish king , but Robert was decisive and quickly organized riots against the people who supported him (unsuccessfully). Suddenly, the tides were changing swiftly, and David proposed to lower the ransom by settling the Scottish crown on the English royal family (thus effectively disinheriting Robert) sealed the enmity between the two. The Parliament refused and ta-da – Robert II was the new king (but too old to rule!).

Rober III –the son of Rober II , who was 50 years of age when he was crowned as a king (I’m starting to assume that that was on a verge of being a custom –old king = wise king). Not only was he old,but he was a limp , when he was young a horse had thrown him out of the saddle,due to that unexpected misfortune his popularity as a kind didn’t grow much! But, there is so much more, his real name was John , being overwhelmed by a superstitious and beliefs for bad omen ( tell me about it!) , he changed his name into Robert. Everything was running smoothly in Scotland, except from the fact that the Stuart dynasty had to gain authority over the lords and to thwart their ambitions of ascending to the throne. The younger brother of the king, Alexander was playing his own game, by ransacking the towns,  setting a fire churches and making himself notoriously temperamental in any possible way. To cap it all , the heir to the throne , prince David proved to be a fine lover and he left his future wife (the daughter of the  Earl of March) only to marry another woman! However, later in year 1402, according to the chronicles ,the prince was captured and died of starvation in Falkland Palace (some claim that the plot was initiated by the brother of the king ,Robert, but we could only make gambles).  The old king paralyzed by fear for his second’s son’s life decided to take him in France, where he could in less  dangerous position. Unluckily, during the journey to France, the ship was captured (by pirates) and the prince was taken in captivity in England.  Two weeks later the old king of Scotland died ,but the curse was handed down to the next Stuart.

James I spent 18 years in England, where he was educated and thrived, de facto he was half- English, by birth Scotish, but by nurture English. Nothing disappointing could be said about that energetic, charismatic young king who wanted to adopt the english justice and to put it in practice in his kingdom. He made the parliament’s assembly in Scone mandatory , the elections of the new laws were stringent. Some people say that if you do not have enemies , you don’t do anything worthy, well the king gained his popularity by being just and by put into death his enemies (Albany and their friends). In February 1437, the king made another parliament assembly, to reach Perth he had to cross Fort, in the dying seconds when the king was taking in the ship , old woman told him that if he went there, he would never come back. On 20th of February, the king was assassinated. (You should have listened to the old woman, James!).

James II of Scotland: 16 October 1437 – 3 August 1460. Not letting the grievance of the death of the last king to make its pass, the rival families the Crichtons, the Livingstons, and the Douglases fought against each other to take control over the king. A bloody party they threw (literally!). If anything, James II inherited nothing,but a kingdom torn apart by rebellions and desire for blood. The quarrel between the king and the Douglases even reached catastrophic immensity, when in 1452 the Earl was stabbed to dead by the former.

In his war with the English, James made an attempt to fire one of the cannons (which was named Lion) but the cannon exploded and the king died ( probably torn into pieces). So much for the  good luck, if there was any!

Next time :Mary Queen of Scots and Charles I, the best is yet to come!