Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Last Victim of the Spanish Inquisition

Torture Chamber during the Spanish Inquisition
(1805 - 1859)

On July 26, 1826, Cayetano Ripoll, a schoolmaster in Valencia, Spain, teaching deist principles should become the last victim executed by the Spanish inquisition. Ripoll has the dubious honor of being the last of the many people known to have been executed under sentence from a Church authority for having committed the act of heresy. For almost 350 years the Spanish inquisition tried to secure the primacy of the Catholic Church in Spain. There have been many crimes and wrongs committed by the Church, but the Spanish Inquisition for sure was one of the worst.

Officially entiteled as the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition (Spanish: Tribunal del Santo Oficio de la Inquisición), the Spanish Inquisition was a tribunal established in 1481 by Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. It was intended to maintain Catholic orthodoxy in their kingdoms, and to replace the Medieval Inquisition which was under Papal control.

The first public punishment occurred in February 1481 when six people were burned alive and after that, the Inquisition grew throughout the kingdom. Only two years later, a new court system established, taking care of the confessions and collected the accusations while starting physical torture to extent the confession rate. The most active period during the Inquisition is assumed to be between 1480 and 1530 with around 2000 executed people, mostly being of Jew origin.

To keep their system working, the Spanish Inquisition established indexes of prohibited books including religious works such as vernacular translations of the Bible. Also prohibited were several popular works of Spanish literature and many works by non Spanish authors like Ovid, Dante, Rabelais, Ariosto, Machiavelli, Erasmus or Jean Bodin.

Next to religious accusations, several further offences were to be controlled with the Inquisition. Witchcraft was a big topic during the most active periods as well, even though it is assumed that the Spanish Inquisition stayed skeptical towards witchcraft cases in contrast to many other European countries. Other enforced laws concerned bigamy, sodomy, being homosexuality or rape.

But how did the Inquisition work? When the Inquisition arrived a certain city, a Sunday mass was held followed by the call for non believers to turn in themselves. Often, people did so, because punishments were not as severe and often they took this chance to denounce others as well. Accusing others for heresies went by anonymously and defendants were not able to find out who denounced them, which led to numerous false accusations caused by personal rivalries. When a person was denounced, the case was examined and the person was held in custody while his property was used to pay imprisonment costs. After a long time of waiting a trial took place with several hearings which the defendant was able to find witnesses for. Another strategy was to proof the accusers non trustworthiness. During the process, the accused was tortured in order to extract a confession and this method was applied without the slightest distinction of sex or age. If a person was found guilty, the cruelest punishment depicted burning alive in public.

The Spanish Inquisition was completely abolished in 1834 by a Royal Decree, eight years after the last man was executed, Cayetano Ripoll. He became a deist after being captured by French soldiers during the Peninsular War and taught his understandings at a Spanish school when returning. Before being burned to death, Ripoll shouted "I die reconciled to God and to man."

At yovisto, you may watch a documentary on the Spanish Inquisition.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Giorgio Vasari, the first Art Historian

Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574)
On July 30, 1511, Italian Renaissance painter, architect, writer and historian Giorgio Vasari was born. He is best known today for his Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects, considered the ideological foundation of art-historical writing.

From all the great Renaissance artist, Giorgio Vasari might be one of the lesser known. The reason for this might be that although an artist of considerable repute, there were so many extraordinary talented Renaissance artists that Vasari's art didn't stand out among them. But, on the other hand, it is one of Vasari's major merits that we know about so many Renaissance artists at all. Simply because he authored and published the very first collection of biographies of famous artists of his age.

Vasari was born in Arezzo, Tuscany. Recommended at an early age by his cousin Luca Signorelli, he became a pupil of Guglielmo da Marsiglia, a skillful painter of stained glass. Sent to Florence at the age of sixteen by Cardinal Silvio Passerini, where he enjoyed the friendship and patronage of the Medici family, he joined the circle of Andrea del Sarto and his pupils Rosso Fiorentino and Jacopo Pontormo where his humanist education was encouraged. He was befriended by Michelangelo whose painting style would influence his own and became a lifelong admirer of Michelangelo. As an artist Vasari was both studious and prolific. In 1529, Vasari visited Rome where he studied the works of Raphael and other artists of the Roman High Renaissance. Vasari's own Mannerist paintings, often produced with the help of a team of assistants were much more admired in his lifetime than afterwards. They have often been criticized as being facile, superficial, and lacking a sense of colour. In 1547 Vasari completed the hall of the chancery in Palazzo della Cancelleria in Rome with a fresco cycle that received the name Sala dei Cento Giorni and depicts scenes from the life of Pope Paul III. He was consistently employed by members of the Medici family in Florence and Rome, and worked in Naples, Arezzo and other places. Many of his pictures still exist, the most important being the wall and ceiling paintings in the Sala di Cosimo I in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence.

Vasari was perhaps more successful as an architect than as a painter. His loggia of the Palazzo degli Uffizi by the Arno opens up the vista at the far end of its long narrow courtyard, a unique piece of urban planning that functions as a public piazza. But, his best-known buildings are the Uffizi in Florence, begun in 1560 for Cosimo I de’ Medici, and the church, monastery, and palace created for the Cavalieri di San Stefano in Pisa. His architectural designs clearly show the influence of Michelangelo and are outstanding examples of the Tuscan Mannerist style of architecture.

But Vasari's major achievement was his invention of the genre of the encyclopedia of artistic biographies with his Le Vite de' più eccellenti pittori, scultori, ed architettori (Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects), dedicated to Grand Duke Cosimo I de' Medici, published in 1550. It included a valuable treatise on the technical methods employed in the arts. He also in his book coined the term 'Renaissance' for the art style of his contemporary epoch as well as the term 'Gothic art'. Interestingly, 'Gothic' in the sense of Vasari means a "monstrous and barbarous" "disorder" and is used to distinguish the classical style of antiquity with its harmonic proportions from the barbaric style of the dark middle ages, which threatened to invade Italy from beyond the Alpes. In comparison to a modern encyclopedia, Vasari's work is not objective at all. Just the opposite, the work has a consistent and notorious favour of Florentines and tends to attribute to them all the new developments in Renaissance art. Venetian art in particular, let alone other parts of Europe, is systematically ignored. His biographies are most dependable for the painters of his own generation and the immediately preceding one. Moreover, he did not research archives for exact dates, as modern art historians do. Nevertheless, before the second edition Vasari had visited Venice and gave more attention to Venetian art in the second edition. Vasari's biographies of notable artists are interspersed with amusing gossip. Many of his anecdotes have the ring of truth, although likely inventions.

Despite all of its flaws, Vasari's Vite for centuries had been the most important source of information on Early Renaissance Italian painters and the attribution of their paintings. All over his lifetime Vasari enjoyed high repute and amassed a considerable fortune. In 1563 Vasari founded the Accademia del Disegno at Florence, with the Grand Duke and Michelangelo as heads of the institute. Vasari died at Florence on June 27, 1574.

At yovisto you can learn more about art history in the times of the high renaissance in Florence in the lecture of Prof. Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette from the Otis College of Arts and Design.

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Monday, July 29, 2013

Alexis de Tocqueville and the Democracy in America

Alexis de Tocqueville
(1805 - 1859)

On July 29, 1805, French political thinker and historian Alexis de Tocqueville was born. He is best known for his Democracy in America, where he analyzed the rising living standards and social conditions of individuals and their relationship to the market and state in Western societies. Today, it is considered an early work of sociology and political science.

Tocqueville started his political career around 1830. He defended the abolitionists in parliament, supporting free trade and the colonisation of Algeria. In the 1830's, he was given the task to observe American prisons, which he traveled across the country for. Next to his examinations, the politician also created very detailed manuscripts on the life and political situation in America. After about two years, he returned with a report, representing the foundation of his most famous work, De la démocratie en Amerique published in 1835.

Next to America, Tocqueville also traveled through Europe, publishing several political works. When Tocqueville completed his journey to Algeria, he noticed problems in the French system of colonisation, building on assimilation. Instead, he preferred the British methods of avoiding a mixture of populations. When traveling to Ireland, he provided the most detailed information about the country and it's political as well as religious situation, which he published successfully after returning.

Tocqueville's most famous work Democracy in America consists of two parts, published in 1835 and 1840. In it, the political thinker and philosopher examines the democratic revolution of which he believed to have happened over the past 700 years. During his travels through America, Tocqueville noticed that the aristocracy was about to disappear and that some kind of equality was established from which the modern world could generally benefit. In order to Tocqueville, important factors responsible for these effects were for instance the growing economic opportunities which led to the growth of commerce and trade. Also he saw the abolition of primogeniture and the fact that all men were able to enter the clergy as influential for the described developments.

Seeing these changes, Tocqueville demanded new political sciences. At the beginning of his America studies, the thinker describes the contributions of the Puritans, who in his mind were mostly responsible for America's state of democracy. They established equalities in education and a synthesis of religion and liberty. Another big topic of Tocqueville's analysis depicted the situation of women. He was one of the first to examine 'their' situation, finding out that the patriarchal order in families decreased due to the collapse of the aristocracy. Tocqueville explains that women in the America he observed were more independent and remained unmarried much longer. Even though Tocqueville did not view women potentially able to act as equal to men, he welcomed their new role and growing independence in the American society.

In general, this work analyzes the differences between the American democracy and the failings of democracy in France. He also gives insights on the possible future of the Unites States' democracy seeing dangers as well as many advances. The books turned out to be an immediate success and were popular in Europe and the United States. It became a classical work and is assigned in most American and European universities as a major work in political theory. The predictions he made in the book are still highly discussed at this time. To his major predictions belong the possible tyranny of the majority over thought, the preoccupation with material goods, and isolated individuals.

Alexis de Tocqueville passed away on April 16, 1859.

At yovisto, you may enjoy Stephen B. Smith lecturing about Tocqueville's Democracy in America. He also gives insights on the person Alexis de Tocqueville and his motivations in political philosophy.

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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Marcel Duchamp and his Readymades

Marcel Duchamp playing chess in 1952.
Kay Bell Reynal photo in the
Smithsonian Institution Archives of American Art.
On July 28, 1887, French-American painter, sculptor and writer Marcel Duchamp was born. He is commonly regarded, along with Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, as one of the artists responsible for significant developments in painting and sculpture. Moreover, Duchamp is considered by many to be one of the most important artists of the 20th century.
"I have forced myself to contradict myself in order to avoid conforming to my own tastes." (Marcel Duchamp)
Henri-Robert-Marcel Duchamp, was born near Blainville, France, as one of seven children into a family that enjoyed cultural activities. In 1904, he traveled to Paris to join his artist brothers, Raymond Duschamp-Villon and Jacques Villon. In Paris, Marcel studied painting at the Academie Julian, until 1905. He learned academic drawing from a teacher who unsuccessfully attempted to protect his students from Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, and other avant-garde influences. At 14, his first serious art attempts were drawings and watercolors depicting his sister Suzanne in various poses and activities. His early work was Post-Impressionist. In 1908, Duchamp’s work was exhibited at the Salon di Automne, and in 1909 at the Salon des Independants, both in Paris.
"Besides, you know, all my work, literally and figuratively, fits into a valise..." (Marcel Duchamp, Dec. 16 1954)
Marcel Duchamp:
Nude Descending a Staircase
In 1911, at their Puteaux home, the Duchamp brothers hosted a regular discussion group with other writers and artists, later known as the Puteaux Group, and their work, Orphic Cubism, or Orphism. Orphism sought to produce pure color harmonies as independent of nature as music. Duchamps early paintings, such as Nude Descending A Staircase (1912), illustrate Duchamp's interest in machinery and its connection to the body's movement through space, implicit in early Modernism. However, Duchamp was most attracted to avant-garde notions and felt an affinity to the Symbolist painters and their mysterious allure of subject matters. These themes and would lead Duchamp toward Dadaism and Surrealism.
“As soon as we start putting our thoughts into words and sentences everything gets distorted, language is just no damn good—I use it because I have to, but I don’t put any trust in it. We never understand each other.” (Marcel Duchamp)
Duchamp painted very little after 1912. Actually, he had abandoned traditional painting and drawing for various experimental forms, including mechanical drawings, studies, and notations that would be incorporated in a major work The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (1923), an abstract work, also known as The Large Glass, composed in oil and wire on glass, that was enthusiastically received by the surrealists. In sculpture, Duchamp pioneered two of the main innovations of the 20th century kinetic art and ready-made art. These were ordinary objects of everyday use, sometimes slightly altered, and designated works of art by the artist. His earliest readymades included Bicycle Wheel (1913), a wheel mounted on a wooden stool, and a snow shovel entitled In Advance of the Broken Arm (1915). One of his best-known pieces is a urinal, titled Fountain, which he submitted to an exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in New York in 1917. In the ensuing controversy, the concept of the readymade became associated with an assault on the conventional understanding of the nature and status of art.
“All in all, the creative act is not performed by the artist alone.. the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.” (Marcel Duchamp)
Duchamp lived mainly in New York from 1915 to 1923, in Paris from 1923 to 1942, and returned to New York in 1942. In New York in 1920, he made his first motor-driven constructions and invented Rrose Sélavy, his feminine alter ego. His friendship with Man Ray led to their publication of New York Dada in 1921. After 1923 Duchamp actually left art and devoted himself to playing chess, art critic and literary activities. From 1942 to 1944, together with Max Ernst and André Breton, he edited the surrealist periodical "VVV", in New York. Duchamp became an American citizen in 1955. Marcel Duchamp has become a veritable legend in himself: a man with a brilliant mind, a sense of humor, and a free spirit. He paved the way for later styles such as Pop (Andy Warhol), Minimalism (Robert Morris), and Conceptualism (Sol LeWitt). Marcel Duchamp died in Neuilly on the outskirts of Paris on October 1, 1968.

At yovisto you can learn more about Marcel Duchamp and his work in the lecture of David Joselit, Carnegie Professor in the History of Art, Yale University, who gives an account of the readymade`s complexity and variety.

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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Jeanne Baret - An Intrepid Woman of Discovery

Neanne Baret
(1740 – 1807)

On July 27, 1740, French natural scientist Jeanne Baret was born. She was probably the first woman to circumnavigate the globe, but with certainty she was the first woman who achieved this disguised as a man.

Jeane Baret grew up in a very poor region of France with rather uneducated people. It is assumed that her father has been illiterate in contrast to Jeane. However, it is not clear, where exactly she received her education from. She became employed as a housekepper to the French naturalist Philibert Commerson as well as his wife who passed away shortly after. It is assumed, that Jeane Baret from then on took care of Commerson's household and historians also suggest that they had some kind of relationship. She got pregnant later on but insisted in not telling who the father was. However, she left her child at a Foundlings Hospital.

In 1765, Commerson was invited to join the expedition of Louis Antoine de Bougainville. He was an admiral and explorer and received the permission by Louis XV to circumnavigate the globe as the first French of all time. This was one of the most impressive expeditions only considering the size of the crew. Bougainville took around 350 people with him, and for the first time ever, many scientists for instance naturalists and geographers joined the trip.

Commerson however hesitated in taking part for a while since his health was very poor at this time. He preferred taking Baret with him to take care of him and his goods but no women were allowed on any ship occupied by the French Navy. She got the idea to disguise herself as a man pretending to be a stranger to Commerson. It is not completely clear, if Commerson was aware of Jeane Baret's plan, but it is highly assumed.

Commerson and his "assistant" Jean Baret (as she called herself now) shared the large cabin of the captain on the storeship Étoile with a private restroom, a situation that allowed her to stay undiscovered for a while. When the crew reached Montevideo, they explored the surrounding nature and Baret is known to have done most of the work since Commerson had serious health issued during the whole trip. Near Rio de Janeiro, they collected further plants, one of them naming Bougainvillea, which turned out to be their most famous discovery. As the journey continued, Commersons health became increasingly poor and Baret became known as very couraged, strong and loyal, taking care of him and continuing his work very professionally.

In April 1768, the expedition reached Tahiti. As soon as Baret left the ship, natives came crying out that she was a woman, wherefore she had to reenter the ship. A few weeks later, Bougainville interviewed her on the accusations, finding out her real sex. But, when the crew exactly found out about her secret is unknown. Rumors may have circulated during the whole journey, but historians are not completely aware of the exact date. Baret and Commerson continued the trip, but in 1773, while the expedition stopped at Mauritius, Commerson died. Jeane Baret continued circumnavigating the globe outside of the original expedition. It was assumed that she and Commerson left the ship at Mauritius, since she was not safe there anymore.

Jeane Baret's contributions to botany are extraordinary. Scientists at the University of Utah and the University of Cincinnati did a good job promoting Baret's achievements to the world of science and
the plant Solanum baretiae was named after her, describing the plant’s namesake as “an unwitting explorer who risked life and limb for love of botany and, in doing so, became the first woman to circumnavigate the world.”

At yovisto, you may enjoy a video lecture on Women in Science and Technology by Susan Williams.

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Friday, July 26, 2013

Breaking New Grounds in Cinematography - Stanley Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999), photo:Wikipedia
On July 26, 1928, American film director, screenwriter, producer, cinematographer, and editor Stanley Kubrick was born. He is regarded as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. His films, typically adaptations of novels or short stories, are noted for their unique cinematography, attention to details to achieve realism and an inspired use of music scores. Clockwork Orange, 2001, Full Metal Jacket, Lolita, The Shining, ‘I’m Spartacus’ or Dr. Strangelove - they all are considered as being some of the best movies ever made.
"When I made my first film, I think the thing was probably helped me the most was that it was such an unusual thing to do in the early 50s for someone who actually go and make a film. People thought it was impossible. It really is terribly easy. All anybody needs is a camera, a tape recorder, and some imagination." (Stanley Kubrick in an Interview, 1968)
Stanley Kubrick was born in the Bronx district of New York, as the first of two children into a family with Jewish ancestry. As a child, Stanley was considered intelligent, but he did not achieve particularly high grades at school. Concerned to find a remedy for his son’s poor academic performance, Jacques (Jacob) Leonard Kubrick sent him to stay with his uncle in Pasadena, California in 1940, hoping that a change of scenery would also improve Stanley’s grades. Returning back home in 1941 for his last year of grammar school, there seemed to be little change in his attitude or his results. But then, Stanley was introduced by his father to the game of chess, with the desired result. Kubrick took to the game passionately, and quickly became a skilled player. Actually, he later also played chess for money in Greenwich Village to supplement his income, before making his first movie.
"You don’t have to be a nice person to be extremely talented. You can be a shit and be talented and, conversely, you can be the nicest guy in the world and not have any talent. Stanley Kubrick is a talented shit." (Kirk Douglas after working on Spartacus with Stanley Kubrick.)
But it was an even wiser decision by his father to give his son a camera for his thirteenth birthday. Kubrick became an avid photographer, and would often make trips around New York taking photographs which he would develop in a friend's darkroom. After selling his first free-lance pictures to Look magazine while still in high school, he began working as a Look staff photographer, travelling the world in their employ for several years. He subsequently enrolled as a non-matriculating student at Columbia University and in the late 1940s Kubrick became enamored of filmmaking. In 1951, Kubrick used his life savings to finance his first film, Day of the Fight, a 16-minute documentary profiling boxer Walter Cartier. Encouraged by the film being a success, Kubrick quit his job at Look magazine to spent his full attention to filmmaking.
"Anyone who has ever been privileged to direct a film also knows that, although it can be like trying to write War and Peace in a bumper car in an amusement park, when you finally get it right, there are not many joys in life that can equal the feeling." (Stanley Kubrick in 1999)
Fist significant commercial success came with Paths of Glory in 1957. The film, set during World War I, is based on Humphrey Cobb's 1935 antiwar novel, and stars Kirk Douglas. It follows a French army unit ordered on an impossible mission by their superiors. The film was critically acclaimed and admired within the industry, establishing Kubrick as a major up-and-coming young filmmaker. However, the film was banned in both France and Germany for many years for its fictionalized depictions of the French military. Spartacus, released in 1960, was based on the true life story of the historical figure, produced by Kirk Douglas who also starred as rebellious slave Spartacus, and Laurence Olivier as his foe, the Roman general and politician Marcus Licinius Crassus. Douglas hired Kubrick to take over direction soon after he fired director Anthony Mann. This became Kubrick's largest film by far, with a cast of over 10,000, and at the time was the most expensive film ever made in America. Spartacus was a critical and commercial success and established Kubrick as a major director, receiving six Academy Award nominations and winning four.
"There's something in the human personality which resents things that are clear, and conversely, something which is attracted to puzzles, enigmas, and allegories." (Stanley Kubrick)
After Lolita (1962) and Dr. Strangelove (1964) - the latter one of my personal favourites - Kubrick spent five years developing his next film, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The film was adapted from the short story The Sentinel, by science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke, telling the story of the birthing of one intelligence by another, is developed in two parallel intersecting stories on two very different times scales. Upon its release in 1968, the film was said to defy genre convention and was claimed to be unlike any science-fiction movie before it. Today, many film critics and moviemakers regard it "as the most significant Hollywood breakthrough since Orson Welles' Citizen Kane.
"The screen is a magic medium. It has such power that it can retain interest as it conveys emotions and moods that no other art form can hope to tackle." (Stanley Kubrick)
In A Clockwork Orange (1971), his adaptation of Anthony Burgess' novel of the same name is an exploration of violence and experimental rehabilitation by law enforcement authorities. Because of its depiction of teenage violence, however, the film became one of the most controversial films of the decade, and part of an ongoing debate about violence in cinema. In Barry Lyndon (1975), an adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray's novel about the adventures of an 18th-century Irish gambler and social climber, Kubrick again revolutionized cinematography and lighting techniques. Most notably, interior scenes were shot with a specially adapted high-speed f/0.7 Zeiss camera lens originally developed for NASA that allowed many scenes to be lit only with candlelight, creating diffused-light images reminiscent of 18th-century paintings.
"I have always enjoyed dealing with a slightly surrealistic situation and presenting it in a realistic manner." (Stanley Kubrick)
But, also his later films are rather remarkable, as e.g. The Shining (1980), an adaption from the bestselling horror writer Stephen King, Full Metal Jacket (1987), an adaptation of a Vietnam War novel, and Eyes Wide Shut (1999), based on Arthur Schnitzler's Freudian novella Traumnovelle. To give a full account of all of Kubrick's achievements would go beyond the scope of this small blog post. In 1997, Kubrick was given two of the film world's highest honors, winning the D.W. Griffith Award from the Director's Guild of America as well as the Golden Lion Award at the 54th Venice International Film Festival. Stanley Kubrick sparked a different style of movie making by concentrating on the visual art at hand rather than worrying about dialogue. Because of this, some consider him the best film director ever. On March 7, 1999, Kubrick died in his sleep of natural causes at the age of 70.

At yovisto, you can learn something about one of Kubrick's favourite subjects that he referred to in his seminal film 2001: A Space Odyssey: The birthing of Intelligence. In his talk 'Not Hal900', Peter Cochrane refers to the famous computer HAL9000, an artificial intelligence from Kubrick's film.

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Louis Blèriot's famous Flight across the English Channel

Bleriot starting the engine on the day he crossed the channel

On July 25, 1909, French aviation pioneer Louis Blériot successfully crossed the English Channel from Calais to Dover Castle in a heavier than air aircraft.

Louis Blériot studied several years at the precious École Centrale Paris before entering the military service and spending further time in the 24th Artillery Regiment stationed in the Pyrenees. The talented young man then joined an electrical engineering company, but left it as soon as he constructed the first practical headlamp for automobiles. He successfully sold his items to Renault and Panhard-Levassor the two most influential car manufacturers back then.

Next to his interests in cars and electricity, Blériot put his focus increasingly on aviation. In 1900, he began experimenting which his successful business allowed financially. He employed further people to help him experimenting and withing five years he built his first gliders. Unfortunately, the first versions of the Blériot glider stayed pretty unsuccessful, causing several crashes. Almost all versions back then were powered with the lightweight Antoinette engines, built by Levavasseur. The latest version, Blériot IV was damaged in a taxiing accident in 1906 and caused the dissolvment of the inventor's pertnership with Voisin. At the same day, Alberto Santos Dumont managed to fly over 220 metres, causing him lots of fame and awards by the Aéro Club de France.

Blériot decided to start his own business, creating his very own aircrafts leading to the world's first successful powered monoplane. In 1907, Blériot made significant advancements on ground runs with the Blériot V, but also damaged the craft's undercarriage badly. In the same year, he hit the ground with the aircraft nose-first and the inventor and engineer was luckily unhurt even though the plane was almost completely destroyed. More testing and experimenting followed and resulted in the Blériot VII, first successful monoplane. People started recognizing Blériot's achievements and admired him for successfully flying over 500 metres including a U-turn. The first cross country flight followed in 1908. Further improvements focussed on better and more efficient engines that would not overheat when the aircraft was on flight, which was a big problem for him back then.

In the following months, Blériot flew longer, wider, faster and received more and more public attention. On July 19, the record breaking engineer received a letter to cross the English Channel in a heavier-than-air aircraft in order to win a thousand-pound prize. He had several opponents, also trying to win the price. Hubert Latham failed and landed in the water. An excited crowd came to see Blériot's attempt and he left ground early in the morning without a compass taking his course from a ship underneath him. After 36 minutes, he landed safely in Dover. After this success, Blériot became a celebrity instantly.

After the numerous experiments he performed and the successful flight in 1909, Blériot's aircraft manufacture received hundrets of orders for aircrafts which made him a wealthy man. In later years, Blériot was involved in long lasting patent battles with the Wright Brothers, but their claims were later dismissed.

Louis Blériot revolutionized aviation and continued teaching flight to younger students and gave technical advices to further aircraft builders until his passing on August 1, 1936.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a short outline of Blériot's achievements by the president of the Royal Aero Club.

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Adventure Time with Alexandre Dumas

Alexandre Dumas, père (1802-1870)
On July 24, 1802, French writer Alexandre Dumas, also known as Alexandre Dumas, père, was born. He is best known for his historical novels of high adventure. Translated into nearly 100 languages, these have made him one of the most widely read French authors in history.

Definitely, Alexandre Dumas' stories have become a popular icon. Think of his 'Three Musketeers', I really don't know how many versions I saw of this story in the movies. Interestingly, the story does never fade in its popularity, as there have been also remakes very recently. Every generation of readers or movie enthusiasts seems to 'rediscover' Dumas' adventures again and again. Actually, his novels have been adapted since the early twentieth century for nearly 200 films. One for all, and all for on, has become a famous quotation. And Dumas' also was an early adopter of the concept of serials. The popularity and success of his Musketeers made him write two more sequels.

Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie (later known as Alexandre Dumas) was born in Villers-Cotterêts, a little village just outside Paris, as son of general Thomas-Alexandre Davy de la Pailleterie, who was a descendant of a French nobleman and a black slave woman from Saint-Domingue. Alexandre's father had fallen out of favor and left the military service in 1800. His health was ruined after 2 years imprisonment as prisoner of war in Naples and in 1806, he died of cancer. His widowed mother could not provide her son with much of an education. However, Alexandre read everything he could and taught himself Spanish. His mother's stories of his father's bravery during the campaigns of the Revolutionary Wars inspired the boy's vivid imagination. In 1822, after the restoration of the French monarchy, 20-year old Alexandre moved to Paris and acquired a position at the Palais Royal in the office of Louis-Philippe, Duke of Orléans.
"My father was a mulatto, my grandfather was a Negro, and my great-grandfather a monkey. You see, Sir, my family starts where yours ends." (Alexandre Dumas' famous response to a man, who insulted him because of his African ancestry)
Dumas began writing articles for magazines and plays for the theatre. The success of his first two plays in 1829 him sufficient income to write full-time. After the 1830 revolution his former employer became King Louis-Philippe, the Citizen King, and the French nation began to industrialize. Now, Dumas switched to writing novels. Although attracted to an extravagant lifestyle and always spending more than he earned, Dumas proved to be an astute marketer. As newspapers were publishing many serial novels, in 1838 Dumas rewrote one of his plays as his first serial novel, Le Capitaine Paul. He founded a production studio, staffed with writers who turned out hundreds of stories, all subject to his personal direction, editing and additions. From 1839 to 1841, Dumas, with the assistance of several friends, compiled Celebrated Crimes, an eight-volume collection of essays on famous criminals and crimes from European history.
"It is by his courage, please observe, by his courage alone, that a gentleman can make his way nowadays. Whoever hesitates for a second perhaps allows the bait to escape which during that exact second fortune held out to him. You are young. You ought to be brave for two reasons: the first is that you are a Gascon, and the second is that you are my son. Never fear quarrels, but seek adventures. I have taught you how to handle a sword; you have thews of iron, a wrist of steel. Fight on all occasions." (Alexandre Dumas, from The Three Musketeers, Chapter 1)
In his stype of working Dumas depended on numerous assistants and collaborators. One of the most important assistants was Auguste Maquet, who is known to have outlined the plot of The Count of Monte Cristo, and made substantial contributions to The Three Musketeers and its sequels. They had a remarkable efficient way of collaboration: Maquet was to propose plots and write drafts. Dumas added the details, dialogues, and the final chapters. Unfortunately, Maquet never made it on the cover of Dumas' novels as co-author. The Count of Monte Cristo, first serialised in the weekly Journal des débats was also a huge literary and financial success for Dumas.
"Tell the angel who will watch over your future destiny, Morrel, to pray sometimes for a man who, like Satan, thought himself, for an instant, equal to God; but who now acknowledges, with Christian humility, that God alone possesses supreme power and infinite wisdom... There is neither happiness nor misery in the world; there is only the comparison of one state with another, nothing more. He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness. We must have felt what it is to die, Morrel, that we may appreciate the enjoyments of life." (Alexandre Dumas, from The Count of Monte Christo, Chapter 117)
The popularity of Dumas' novels earned him a great deal of money, but he was frequently insolvent, as he spent lavishly on women and sumptuous living. Overall, Dumas published writings come to a total of incredible 100,000 pages in his lifetime. After King Louis-Philippe was ousted in a revolt, Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte was elected as president. But, as Bonaparte disapproved of the author, in 1851 Dumas fled to Brussels, Belgium, which was also an effort to escape his creditors. IN 1859, he moved on to Russia, where his writings were enormously popular and he stayed there for almost two years publishing travel books about Russia. In March 1861 the kingdom of Italy was proclaimed, with Victor Emmanuel II as its new king. For the next three years, Dumas participated in the movement for Italian unification and founded a newspaper, Indipendente. Returning to Paris in 1864, he - of course - published travel books about Italy. On December 5, 1870, Alexandre Dumas died in poverty at his son's villa in Puys, near Dieppe. Dumas' son, Alexandre Dumas fils, is remembered today chiefly for his first novel, The Lady of the Camellias, which was the basis for the libretto of Verdi's opera La Traviata.

At yovisto you can learn more about the times of Alexandre Dumas and how it was like living in France in the 19th century in the lecture of Yale Prof. John Merryman on 'Nineteenth century's Cities'

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Eugene Vidocq - The Father of Criminology

Eugène François Vidocq
(1775 - 1857)
During the night of 23 to 24 July 1775, French criminal and criminalist Eugene Vidocq was born. Vidocq is considered the world's first private detective and father of modern criminology. His life story inspired several writers, including Victor Hugo and Honoré de Balzac.

Surprisingly, the later criminalist had a pretty turbulent childhood and youth. He stole his parent's silverware at the age of 13 and was sent to prison for 10 days. Just one year later, he stole more money from his parents, trying to get to America but again he was unsuccessful, wherefore he spent some time living as an entertainer on the streets of France. Vidocq later joined the French Army and fought several battles after France declared war to Austria in 1792. He became very unpopular after deserting several times and 'hiding' in new regiments wherefore he quit soon. At the age of 18, Vidocq was sent to prison several times for dueling, cheating, stealing and whatsoever.

Even though Vidocq's whole life sounds like a huge adventure, the years beween 1795 and 1800 are known to be his adventurer years. He joined a special army called armée roulante. It consisted of a group of fake officers without regiments or even orders, who wore fake uniforms and promoted themselves. Vidocq for example became Hussar captain. He left his group after a while and lived in the French undergrounds until being sent to prison once again for beating up several people. In the following years he was sent to prison multiple times and managed to flee almost as often.

In the early 1800's, Vidocq was again captured and offered the police to spy on other inmates in order to solve more crimes and to figure out their secret identities. The inmates trusted him and his mission was a great success. He was released very soon and began his work as a spy in the French underground with an amazing success rate. In 1811, Vidocq managed to found an official security organisation, approved by Napoleon Bonaparte. Vidocq became its head and in between only 10 years, the organisation grew up to 28 secret agents. After 18 years of successfully leading the organisation, a few changes in the police's headquarters occurred wherefore Vidocq decided to withdraw from his position in 1832.

The turbulent adventures of Eugene Vidocq became famous already during his lifetime. Vidocq himself began writing about his life and authored several essays on prison life and death penalty. Vidocq's memoirs were published in the late 1820's and were an instant success. Several police men and journalists began to write about their adventures with the criminal and criminalist, wherefore numerous writings on Vidocq evolved. Several writers like Vidocq's befriended Honoré de Balzac also took a lot of inspiration for future works on detective stories and murder mysteries leaned on the life of the father of criminology.

Eugene Vidocq revolutionized criminology with new methods concerning the handling with criminals psychologically, concerning secret investigations and forensic methods using the latest achievements in science and even patenting a few himself. At yovisto, you may enjoy a video lecture on the newest achievements considering Forensic Psychology and new methods in criminology on real life examples by Dr. Jeffrey Kieliszewski.

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Monday, July 22, 2013

The Quiet Moments of Edward Hopper

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper

On July 22, 1882, prominent American realist painter and printmaker Edward Hopper was born. Popularly known for his oil paintings reflecting his personal vision of modern American life, he was equally proficient as a watercolorist and printmaker in etching. Hopper has become a modern icon and greatly inspired popular culture.

Hopper's early years were shaped by his love for foreign cultures and for drawing. He made political cartoons starting at a teenager and started oil paintings shortly after. The overall introverted appearance Hopper's towards others changed when people saw his drawings, which were often humorous and serious at the same time. He used to create comic situations of women dominating men or he often illustrated the difficult conditions, immigrants used to live in. Still, in his self portraits he drew himself very skinny and inconspicuous. During these years of finding himself, Hopper was significantly influenced by the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose works he read multiple times.
Edward Hopper, Selfportrait
(1882 – 1967)

Edward Hopper studied Art in New York and created numerous self portraits but also many still lives, and landscapes. He switched to a darker color palette in the following years after travelling through Europe for a while. Still, he was not highly affected by contemporary European artists, many of them began experimenting with cubism while he preferred realist art. After his journeys, a period of emptiness followed. Sometimes, months passed by without Hopper finding something to paint and his friends like Walter Tittle hated to see him suffering. Hopper sold his first painting in 1913, titled Sailing, but the big breakthrough had to wait a bit longer.

In the 1920's, Hopper's success finally set in. He got married and his wife, Josephine Nivison became his manager. He proved to be an amazing artist, dealing with American and European architecture, allowing him a financial stability though the great amount of paintings now sold. Although many artists had to suffer during the Great Depression, Hopper sold many paintings during these years and in 1933, the Museum of Modern Art finally gave Hopper his first large retrospective. The following years went buy busy and Hopper created stunning works like Nighthawks, New York Movie, or Morning in a City.

Through his paintings, Hopper delivered he peace he probably experienced during painting his images. He was known to be a slow painter, working everything out in his mind and on sketches before actually painting them. He always paid much attention on the balance of a picture's environment and the number and kind of people in it. He transported his moods through the variety of shadows and lights. Often people refer to works like Summertime, Early Sunday Morning, and Sun in an Empty Room when emphasizing his methods on figuring out lighting.

Hopper did not see himself being part of any specific art school. He often painted common American life situations as well as sea and landscapes and urban architecture. One of Hopper's most influential works for realism depicted the House by the Railroad, which was finished in 1925. It illustrates an isolated Victorian mansion and it often referred to as one of Hopper's most mature paintings. The people he created in his works were mostly women in daily situations like in Moonlight Interior. The presumably best known works Hopper's is Nighthawks, representing one of his famous group paintings. It is known for its cinematic viewpoint and the harsh light that contrasts the people and the restaurant from the dark outside. It is assumed that Ernest Hemingway's The Killers was the inspiration for this work.

The moods Hopper delivered influenced the overall American cultural scene as well as several movies, such as Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho or Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven. Hopper became popular during his lifetime, and his fame lives until this day. Still, metropolis around the globe host Edward Hopper themed exhibitions and honor his achievements.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a video lecture by John Wilmerding, talking about 'The Modern Realism of Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth'.

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Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Medium is the Message - Marshal McLuhan

Marshall McLuhan, holding a Mirror
On July 21, 1911, Canadian philosopher of communication theory Herbert Marshal McLuhan was born. His groundbreaking work is considered to be the cornerstone of media and communication theory. McLuhan is known for coining the expressions the medium is the message and the global village, and for predicting the World Wide Web almost thirty years before it was invented.
"In television, images are projected at you. You are the screen. The images wrap around you. You are the vanishing point." (Marshall McLuhan)
Marshall McLuhan was born in Edmonton, Canada. His father Herbert Ernest McLuhan was an insurance salesman and mother Elsie Naomi an elocution teacher. He studied at the University of Manitoba and at Cambridge, with an emphasis on the scholastic philosophers. His 1942 doctoral dissertation dealt with the rhetoric of Elizabethan playwright and controversialist Thomas Nashe.
"Media are means of extending and enlarging our organic sense lives into our environment." (Marshall McLuhan)
McLuhan then taught English in various American Universities. Along the way he married Corinne Keller Lewis, a drama student at the University of St. Louis, and converted to Catholicism. He eventually settled at the University of Toronto where he would later establish his Centre for Culture and Technology, which became a think tank studying the psychological and social consequences of technologies and media. It was here that he met political economist Harold Innis and Anthropologist Edmund Carpenter who would both influence him to formulate a concept of media as a primary shaper of civilization.
"Advertising is the greatest art form of the twentieth century." (Marshall McLuhan)
McLuhan's The Gutenberg Galaxy appeared in 1962, followed by The Making of Typographic Man in 1962, Understanding Media in 1964 and The Medium is the Message in 1967 and War and Peace in the Global Village in 1968. Let's take just Understanding Media, first published in 1964, as an example for his theories: Understanding Media focuses on the media effects that permeate society and culture, but McLuhan’s starting point is always the individual, because he defines media as technological extensions of the physical body. As a result, McLuhan often puts his inquiry and his conclusions in terms of the ratio between the physical senses (the extent to which we depend on them relative to each other) and the consequences of modifications to that ratio. This invariably entails a psychological dimension. Understanding Media brought McLuhan to prominence in the same decade that celebrated flower power and the summer of love.

One of the key concepts he developed in his media theory is the Tetrad of Media: In Laws of Media, published posthumously by his son Eric in 1988, McLuhan summarized his ideas about media in a concise tetrad of media effects. The tetrad is a means of examining the effects on society of any technology, in particular any medium by dividing its effects into four categories and displaying them simultaneously. He phrased the four laws (enhancement, obsolescense, retrieval, and reversal) as questions to consider for any medium:
  • What does the medium enhance?
  • What does the medium make obsolete?
  • What does the medium retrieve that had been obsolesced earlier?
  • What does the medium flip into when pushed to extremes?
The laws of the tetrad exist simultaneously, not successively or chronologically, and allow the questioner to explore the "grammar and syntax" of the "language" of media. Let's take radio as an example for McLuhan's tetrad:
  • Enhancement (figure): What the medium amplifies or intensifies. Radio amplifies news and music via sound.
  • Obsolescence (ground): What the medium drives out of prominence. Radio reduces the importance of print and the visual.
  • Retrieval (figure): What the medium recovers which was previously lost. Radio returns the spoken word to the forefront.
  • Reversal (ground): What the medium does when pushed to its limits. Acoustic radio flips into audio-visual TV.
At yovisto you can watch Marshall McLuhan himself in a lecture recorded by ABC Radio National Network on 27 June 1979 in Australia on 'The Medium is the Message'

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