Bourgeois Realism

The Impressionists: Their Lives and Work in 350 Images

By Robert Katz and Celestine Dars

Published by Lorenz Books

Copyright: © 2016

A small coterie of Parisian painters, less than a dozen, mostly French, mostly young and middle class, disillusioned with the elite’s adherence to Neoclassicalism and Romantism, began to experiment in the latter half of 19th century with bold colors and light, loose, broad brushwork and forms, simple, pleasing scenes of everyday life and contentment, landscapes painted in the open air: en plein air, painting what their eyes saw, and their hearts felt. Their style came to be known as Impressionism, a term lifted by an art critic who intended censure and derision from Monet’s painting: ‘Impression, Sunrise’ (shown above right). Impressionism, initially disregarded and rejected by the critics and the public, became the solid foundation for all painting to come; Post-Impressionism, Art Noveau, Cubism, and onto what is today casually labeled modern or contemporary art.

As Impressionism birthed the future of painting in the west, the Realists: Millet, Corot, Corbet, and others created the base for Degas, Manet, Monet to which they added something fresh and enjoyable. Realists painted the world as they perceived it: poor, laboring, dismal, dystopian. The Impressionists kept the Realists’ stage, the world as it is, but added cheerfulness and peace by experimenting with light and form.

Monet’s genre masterpiece, ‘Woman with a Parasol-Madame Monet and Her Son (shown above left), captures his wife and son in a leisurely stroll around a blustery Argenteuil, a suburb of Paris, in 1875. The woman and son are looking down on the painter with her umbrella blocking out the sun creating an impression of light dancing through the clouds and sky, imparting a stark contrast for the shadows below moving across the grass and flowers. The woman’s vail and dress ripples across her face and body in tune with the breeze. The boy is in the background giving the painting an added sense of depth. The detail of the painting (above right) shows the broad brushstrokes, bold colors and contrasts that came to characterize Impressionistic art.

‘The Impressionist’ brings form and substance to the lives of six of the greatest artists of the genre: Pissarro, Manet, Degas, Monet, Renoir, and Sisley, who gave birth to something new.

The Other Michelangelo

Caravaggio: The Complete Works

By Sebastian Schutze

Published by TASCHEN

Copyright: © 2015

The other Michelangelo, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, was born almost 100 years after the Michelangelo of Florence and Sistine Chaple fame, in the northern Italian city of Milian, at the time a part of the Spanish Empire; coming of age as a painter in the dying days of the Renaissance art period and the birth of Baroque, developing and leading a style with an increased attention to detail, lighting, and volume not so much in contrast, but in addition to the scientific realism of the previous 200 years.

Caravaggio took the Baroque art beyond the biblical themes of the Renaissance while retaining the humanism, maintaining naturalism but with detail likely unavailable to painters before him, improving on perspective and volume through the use of light and dark: Chiaroscuro, and giving the subjects an emotional bearing that communicates to the viewer a deportment not obtainable to the first Michelangelo.

The book cover, Judith beheading Holofernes, detail above with full painting shown below, depicts Judith looking down and to the viewers left with a look, according to some, of revulsion and disgust, but my interpretation is one of apathy and possibly puzzlement, as noted by the slight creases between the eyebrows and the bridge of the nose and the minor squint of the eyes. Panning out may add an unquestioning repugnance to the painting but not to Judith’s countenance, it remains one of bemusement, a ‘is this all there is’ to vanquishing one’s enemy, while an old woman looks over Judith’s shoulder concurring, not seeing the gore of the moment but the moral of the act and feeling ‘Good, it is done’. The detail may be there, but the viewers interpretation is still required.

Caravaggio, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It Happened Already

The Stars and The Earth or Thoughts upon Time, Space, and Eternity

By Felix Eberty

Translator: Josephine Caruana

Published by Comino-Verlag

Copyright: © 2018

A short read reflecting on the information carried by a photon as it reaches your eye from the far reaches of space.

Originally the book was published in two volumes, both together totaling less than 80 pages, in 1846 and 1847. The book sought the union of physics and religion, metaphysics; for God sees the past and the present as a single point in the space time continuum, time stopping when moving with the light, observing all in three dimensions rather than four. Eberty continues his thesis from an all-seeing God to a time when man’s technological progress allows him to see as God sees or the child of God becomes a god.

Eberty knowing that the speed of light was finite, about 300,000 km/s, contemplated that all visuals captured by any type of eye, human or otherwise, happened in the past. The past including an inconceivably, insignificantly small amount of time in the past, such as a plate of mac and cheese in front of you, is still in the past, what you see has already occurred. Jurgen Neffe, author of a biography of Albert Einstein, stated it succinctly “time travels with light”. Observing light traveling from a billion light years away exhibits events as they happened a billion years ago but if you traveled with those photons for those billion years the past occurs at the same time as your present.

Eberty’s thoughts on the meaning of time and space were recognized at the time not only as novel but metaphysical in nature, maybe not so much today.

You Are Here: Now What?

Return of the God Hypothesis

By Stephen C. Meyers

Published by HarperOne

Copyright: © 2021

An interesting if not an enlightening, but thoroughly tedious treatise.

Meyer, in excruciating detail, examines the evidence for a universe designed, created, and set into motion by the hand of God. His proofs assess how the universe is perfectly tuned to foster our existence, how human DNA’s complexity is beyond random chance, and how the explosion of multi-celled life forms during the Cambrian Period (485-539 mya (million years ago)) is unlikely Darwinian in nature.

The first two proofs are plausible, and his arguments are meticulously developed, while the Cambrian explosion of life does not address the hundreds of millions to a billion years of missing rock section prior to the beginning to the Cambrian Period. The explosion of life may simply be a function of where one begins to sample the evidence.

Meyer’s case for God orchestrating our existence is convincing but you only need to read Part II, about 150 pages in the hardback version of the book, while the other 300 pages can be consigned to doctoral students in logic and religion.

Universal Physics and Local Irrelevance

Einstein: A Biography

By Jurgen Neffe

Translated by Shelly Frisch

Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright: © 2007

Neffe brings comprehension to relativity but muddles Einstein’s personal life to inaptness.

Neffe’s non-linear telling of Einstein’s life adds little to the story and a lot of unnecessary page flipping for the reader to grasp the author’s intermittent and incomplete style of writing, whereas his layman descriptions of the theory of relativity generally clears the accumulated fog of physics to bring basic understanding Einstein’s science.

Early Italian Renaissance Painting

Piero Della Francesca

By Anna Maria Maetzke

Photographs by Alessandro Benci

Published by Silvana Editoriale

Copyright: © 2013

An art book short on art and long on art history and art criticism.

Piero della Francesca, born in Tuscany in the early 15th century, is regarded as a true master before his time, eerily anticipating post impression by 500 years. Francesca was a major force in inputting perspective into paintings, greatly influenced by an Italian contemporary polymath, Leon Battista Alberti.

Francesca’s greatest works include the painting to the right, Federico da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, and the fresco, The Legend of the True Cross, located within the basilica of San Francesco in Arezzo, Italy.

The book contains all surviving paintings by the artist, about 150, which showcase his genius when compared with fellow artists such as Donatello and Brunelleschi, along with extensive research and commentary on Francesca’s life and art.

Out of Eden

The Ancient Mediterranean World: From the Stone Age to A.D. 600B Mediterranean 2004

Written by:  Robin W. Winks and Susan P. Mattern-Parkes

Published by: Oxford University Press

Copyright:  © 2004

Homo erectus, an upright fellow, showed up during the Pleistocene about 2 million years ago and quickly dispersed throughout Asia and Africa even though his starting point is ambiguous. After mucking about the tropics, the lack of clothes makes it difficult to take skiing vacations in the Alps, decided to take on a bigger brain and chin with less eye brow protuberance, and developed into our mum: Homo sapiens, a couple of hundred thousand years ago.  Some say we came from east Africa, others say east Asia but regardless of our origins we showed up in what is now Israel around 100,000 years ago and our quest for ever larger cell phone screens and civilized table manners had begun.

Agriculture, originating about the 12th century B.C., traces its roots back to the fertile crescent; beginning at the Jordan River progressing north and northeast to the headwaters of the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers and then back down south to the rivers’ marshlands, eventually pouring into the Persian Gulf.  By 9500 B.C. man was cultivating wheat, flax, rye, peas, and other crops that brokered the way for cities, government, laws, and taxes; otherwise known as civilization.

The earliest civilizations are conveniently timed to the discovery of bronze around 2500 B.C.  Bronze tools and weapons, an amalgam of copper and tin, galvanized the rise of city-states and empires until the tin ran out in 1200 B.C., then the Dark Ages set in. Virtually every major city in the eastern Mediterranean was sacked and burned during the first 50 years of the advent of these interesting times, many to disappear from the map forever. The technology to smelt carbon steel brought a renewal of civilization during the Iron Age and the cementing of the Assyrian Empire–for awhile.

By the end of the Iron Age the bright lights of civilization have shifted from Mesopotamia to the northern shores of the Mediterranean; first settling into the Aegean peninsula around the 8th century B.C. before migrating to Rome in the 3rd century B.C.  By the 3rd century A.D. Rome was a spent force and the remnants of the empire shifted back to the eastern Mediterranean in Constantinople.

Christianity’s rise followed Rome’s decline through the Mediterranean. The rapid spread of Christianity is somewhat of enigma, as are other philosophies or religions such as Buddhism and Islam, but the prevailing thoughts are that church improved the lives of its followers and promised a way to life every after.

The authors, Drs Winks and Mattern-Parkes, professors of history at Yale and the University of Georgia respectively, have written a short history of the region that engrosses and enlightens without preaching.  If interested in the history of the Mediterranean from the Stone Age to Islam, this is quick read and is eminently readable.

 

Fact or Fiction

After the Ice: A Global Human History, 20,000-5000 BC B After Ice 2003

Written by:  Steve Mithen

Published by:  Harvard University Press

Copyright:  © 2003

The Earth has experienced at least 6 major episodes of glaciation in the past. Three in the Pre-Cambrian, which is a time older than 0.542 billion years (Ga) and three in Phanerozoic, a time younger than 0.542 Ga. All appear to have had a profound effect on life on Earth; not so much the beginning of  any particular ice age but what occurred when the glaciers melted. The first glaciation, Pongola, occurred from approximately 2.9 to 2.75 Ga. The end of this glacial period saw a build up of oxygen in the oceans until it reached critical levels and began charging the atmosphere. Around 2.45 Ga, oxygen levels reached levels sufficient to cause cooling of the Earth, by removing greenhouse gases, and thus starting the second glacial period, the Huronian from 2.4 to 2.1 Ga. Shortly before or after the glaciers melted, around 2.2 to 1.6 Ga, eukaryotes, cells with a nucleus, appeared. Eukaryotes are everywhere, you, your cat, your flowering plants that your cat eats, the spiders in the corner of your bedroom that your cat will not eat, everywhere. Next up is the Cryogenian, a glacial period in Earth’s history occurring from 0.720 to 0.635 Ga. Shortly after they melted, the ozone layer was created, a cloak desperately needed to protect life from the harmful rays of the sun.  The Cambrian Explosion of life followed the ozone creation.  Moving on to the next glacial, the Andean-Saharan, occurring from 0.450 to 0.420 Ga, predominately in the Silurian Period but also sucking up some of its predecessor’s, the Ordovician, time. This glaciation is followed by significant accumulation of life, plants and animals, moving beyond strictly marine habitats to occupy solid land and Amazon distribution centers. The Karoo Ice Age, from 0.360 to 0.260 Ga, is followed by the largest extinction event this planet has ever seen, occurring at the end of the Permian and the beginning of the Triassic.  At this point glacial melting does not appear to be the causative event for the extinctions but may have provided a nudge. The final event, known as the Quaternary Glaciation, started 2.58 million years ago and is still active today. Currently we are within what is called an inter-glacial period. These inter-glacials are preceded and followed by glaciers marching towards and receding from lower latitudes.  Note to self and you: these glacial periods last much, much, much longer than 2.58 million years. With the exception of Antarctica and Greenland, the current set of glaciers reached their maximum extent about 20-25,000 years ago and have slowly retreated, essentially disappearing  by 9600 years ago. Around 25,000 years ago, human populations started to increase.  By 9600 years ago his technological progress exploded.

Dr. Steven Mithen, the author of After the Ice, attempts to record our history from when the ice sheets began their retreat to the time the Sumerians first developed a system of writing 5000 years ago, a period partially covered by what we now call with the broad brushed term; pre-history.  Dr. Mithen primarily uses an archeologist’s box of tools to decipher ancient Homo sapiens sapiens style of living, their diet, housing, religion, culture; their existence and growth as a species, all from a time when our ancestors were not consciously plastering their material world with sticky notes.

After the Ice is a global tour of archeological finds and their interpretations, from our hunter-gather roots in the Pleistocene to a more sedentary and cosmopolitan life as a farmer, artist, city-dweller; parsing one continent at a time. There is little in the way of original research in this book, more a compendium of secondary source material, known sites, and the results obtained from them. Exactly what I was looking for when I picked up this book to read.

The author covers most of the major sites and imparts to us what all the shell debris, bone carvings, and flint scrapings mean. He does this beautifully and when confronted with differing possible interpretations, he carefully constructs a point-counterpoint argument to help resolve the issues.  His discussion and synopsis of the initially controversial, Monte Verde site in Chile, which ultimately pushed humanity’s origins in the Americas back about 2500 years, from Clovis times to 14,500 years ago, was expertly relayed to the reader, leaving little room for alternate meanings: a real education one may add.

This book and author excel when relating the artifacts found and their possible meanings and its thoroughly fascinating stuff, but he manages to turn the affair into an awful, muddled mess of narrative excess by introducing a time-traveling archaeologist, John Lubbock, to add color to the play-by-play.  John Lubbock, who actually was an eminent archeologist in the late 1800s, observes humans at various times and places in our pre-history, providing second person comments on the existing state of humanity and the world.  It’s all a bit much and very distracting, annoying even.  An all too common example; meaning to give an example, I just opened the book, put my finger down and copied whatever was there:

Lubbock left the cave at Lukenya Hill with a hunting party late one afternoon.  As they walked, spider’s webs within the grass were illuminated by the setting sun, momentarily exposed in a narrow band between clouds and distant mountains.

Keep in mind this happened 1000s of years before writing was invented so this is little more than pure unadulterated fiction. To add authenticity and license to his fiction he occasionally appends a footnote. And it’s liberally interspersed throughout the book amounting to equal parts Lubbock fantasy to Mithen facts.  Take out Lubbock and the book goes from a blathering 600 pages of confusion to 300 pages of something that may be worth reading. Mithen just can’t seem to make up his mind, does he want to write a factual history or historical fiction.  Actually he did make up his mind, he decided to do both.

I initially tried to skim Lubbock’s narrative and just stick with Mithen’s discussion but the author so intertwines them both that bypassing one makes nonsense of the other. This could have, should have been a great book dealing with the world’s archeological quest to unravel our past.  There are moments in the book where Mithen brings his and his colleagues’ science to life but in the end it just too dang hard to enjoy the meat when he coats the entire thing in Lubbock’s wispy, sticky cotton candy.

I am once again on the lookout for a decent account of humanity’s pre-history.

Wine, Wine, Wine

The Home Winemaker’s Companion B Wine 2000

Written by:  Gene Spaziani and Ed Halloran

Published by:  Storey Publishing

Copyright:  © 2000

Give me wine, wine, wine, all the time, time, time
Give me wine, wine, wine, all the time, time, time
‘Cause when I get it, I feel so doggone fine

Well, a little bit o’ wine is never bad
People drink wine to keep from feelin’ sad
‘Cause when I get it, I feel so doggone fine

Give me wine, wine, wine, all the time, time, time
Give me wine, wine, wine, all the time, time, time
‘Cause when I get it, I feel so doggone fine

Well my grandmother loved wine so much
It even took her off the crutch

Give me wine, wine, wine, all the time, time, time
Give me wine, wine, wine, all the time, time, time
‘Cause when I get it, I feel so doggone fine

Wine Wine Wine by Maxwell Davis and Floyd Dixon ©1976?

Many years ago I read an interview of an Earth scientist, a geophysicist, in a technical journal discussing his life’s work.  I no longer remember the man’s name or much of what he said in that article; in fact the only thing I do remember, and I have absolutely no idea why it has stuck with me, is a comment that he made on the subject of red wine. Why that was germane to the article also remains a mystery to me but the quote was succinct and indubitable, and I believe I can recite it verbatim: “I wish I had started drinking red wine much earlier in life.”  I can only add that I whole heartedly agree.  My red wine drinking days started, regrettably, way too late in life. At my age one realizes that life is short, so let’s get on with it.  Get on with the good things in life that is.

I enjoy all things about red wine; researching, reading, writing, buying and above all else drinking.  The next step in my journey is to start making my own red wine, learning the steps and methods that go into creating a drinkable, and hopefully, a good red wine.  An excellent first step is to study and learn from this book: The Home Winemaker’s Companion.

The book is compendium of need-to-know facts and processes about making wine in your home.  Making wine is not rocket science but discipline and patience are required. It starts out listing and describing the equipment, the hardware, the tools, you will need, both what is essential and what is useful but not entirely necessary.  Some of the materials you may already have in your home such as funnels and measuring cups but likely you will need to invest in some 6-7 gallon food-grade pails and carboys for fermenting and aging your wine plus some basic tools such as stirring paddles and large bottle brushes.

Next come the ingredients other than the grapes themselves; yeasts, cleaning and fining agents and other simple or specialty chemicals needed to ensure a successful wine. The book helpfully lists numerous yeasts that are needed for various varieties of wine.

Cleanliness and sanitation of your equipment is a must for making wine.  The book states over and over the importance of sanitation, and describes the proper methods and chemicals needed to ensure clean and sanitized equipment.

The book then describes the basic steps in actually turning your grapes into wine.  This includes, but not limited to, testing for sugar and acid, racking (transferring to another container) your wine, imparting an oak flavor, and finally bottling and corking your wine.  Save your old wine bottles for reuse but purchase new corks.

Before the book gets into the actual recipes for the various red and white varieties of wine, it discusses the advantages, and disadvantages, of using kits and grape concentrates versus crushing and maceration of your own grapes.  Once you decide your starting point on the initial condition of the grape, you can select the actual recipe, all of which include detailed, step-by-step instructions.

The final, and maybe the first, step in wine making is patience.  Patience to allow the wine to ferment, age and improve.  My initial plan is to allow the wine to age in glass carboys, oak and bottles for at least 2 years.  Success will take some time to determine.  I do hope I have the patience.

Desire and Chocolate

A Legacy Made in Chocolate Edited by Lydia Bell and Fiona Sims, published by B Godiva 2016Illustrated London News Limited, © 2016.

Godiva is may favorite chocolate.  When I have Godiva chocolates in the house I worry about gaining weight but I usually don’t because the rest of the family always, and I mean always, beats me to the box of goodies and gobbles them up before I can over indulge.  I know I should hide them, keep them for myself, deny the pleasure to others but that would just be curmudgeonly selfish. I think I can do that.

The art, biography, and history of the Drap family and their boundless love for all things chocolate is contained within the covers of this short, but lavishly illustrated book. The pages of this book bring to life the Belgium family’s chocolate odyssey, beginning in 1926, as they continually generate smiles of gratitude and gastronomic satisfaction for over 90-years.  Laid out in opposing columns of English and French, this album of confectionary delight brings to the reader Godiva’s inspiration, their style, and their passion for making everything chocolate.  Inspiration from the fashion houses of Paris and Brussels. Style from the Belgium arts university, La Cambre and artists of renown such as Oli-B. Passion for chocolate from the leading Chef’s and chocolatiers of Belgium.

This is a visually captivating book bringing to your eyes what Godiva’s chocolates bring to your palate: sensual, divine pleasure.  The book will only take a few leisurely hours of your time, but be forewarned, your desire for Godiva truffles will be magnified a hundred fold.

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