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Showing posts from February, 2012

The Shakespeare Death Mask and the Flower Portrait

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Shakespeare died on his fifty second birthday 26 April 1616. The exact cause and circumstances of his death are unknown, unless, that is, you accept the evidence of Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel, professor of English literature at Mainz University in Germany, who believes that a Plaster of Paris cast of a face, which at the time of her investigation was residing in a museum in Darmstadt (Germany), is, in fact, the death mask of William Shakespeare, and the key to the poet's death. 


Nothing is known of the whereabouts of the mask until 1775 when a German nobleman purchased it in London. In 1842 it was auctioned as part of the nobleman's possessions, and in 1860, Ludwig Becker***, a court painter in Darmstadt, found it in a junk shop and sold it to the local municipality.


Dr. Hammerschmidt-Hummel asked the Bundeskriminalamt, the criminal investigation department of the German police, to compare the mask with the two authentic portraits of Shakespeare: the copperplate engraving of…

Romulus and the Sabine Women

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Romulus, and his twin brother Remus, are the traditional, mythological founders of Rome. But having decided to build their new city, they fell into brotherly dispute over where to locate it.
"I want it here!" said Romulus.
"Well I want it here!" said Remus.
Unable to agree they decided to take the matter to arbitration by consulting an augur. The augur duly deliberated by studying the flight of birds - how else? - and made his decision. But the twins still argued, the dispute only being settled with Romulus resorting to violence and killing Remus, then building the city where he wanted it and naming it after himself.


The city attracted newcomers and quickly began to grow. But there was a problem - most of the newcomers were men. Romulus quickly spotted that his could be a severe handicap to producing a new generation to succeed the older generation when they passed away. So he entered into negotiations with neighbouring tribes, including the Sabines, with the aim of ge…

La Belle Époque - Vive la bagatelle !

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There had never been a time like it. At least, that's what they said.  A time in which the well-to-do threw off the mundane constraints of work and social life and gave themselves over to leisure and pleasure and playful activities.


In was a time in which sports flourished. The first modern Olympics took place in Athens in 1896. Technical advances in smaller and lighter engines allowed the development of motor cycles and automobiles and allowed motor sports to develop, which in turn gave rise to the futurist movement. The Tour de France began its first ever race on 19 July 1903. Bicycles, indeed, became a fashion, and with it an attendant new fashion costume. The same was true with golf, horse riding, and, of course, swimwear. And photography, already firmly established, led to moving images and to the first picture houses.


Historically, it covers the period from the late 19th century to the outbreak of hostilities in 1914 leading to the Great War for the Civilization of the World, …

King Bladud of Bath - Ancient Britain's pioneer aeronaut

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Bladud was a descendant of Brute the Trojan and the father of King Lear, and is the traditional founder of the English city of Bath and its hot medicinal springs. He was also the first recorded casualty of an aeronautical accident while flying over Troja Nova (New Troy) or Trinavantum, now known as London.


He was the tenth ruler of Britain and the ninth king, the third ruler being Gwendoline, the widow of Locrine, one of the three sons of Brute. Bladud ascended to the throne in 863 B.C.,(1) succeeding his father Rudhudibras or Rhun Paladr-fras. 


The circumstances of Bladud succeeding to the throne are clouded by the years. According to one story, he was sent to Athens by his father to be instructed in philosophy, and, after his father's death, returned home with four philosophers and founded a university at Stamford in the county of Lincolnshire. But another story contends that he spent 11 years in Athens and returned a leper and was placed in confinement. He escaped in disguise and…

Shakespeare's London: The Liberty of the Clink and Paris Garden

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In the time of Shakespeare, pleasure-seeking Londoners headed south across the river to Southwark in the county of Surrey, an entertainment area that offered animal bating, stews (brothels) and plays. Shakespeare's own company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, relocated there in 1599, rebuilding its theatre in the area known as the Liberty of the Clink. By 1600, Shakespeare, too, had taken up residence in the borough.


Connecting London to Southwark was the one bridge, called, appropriately, London Bridge. It was nearly 350 yards long, with shops and stalls and houses of great splendour, and had a passage about twelve feet wide for the traffic of animals, carts and people to move along. At the London end was a water wheel which pumped river water through lead pipes to houses in the City. Over the gates at either end of the bridge the severed heads of traitors disloyal to the crown were displayed, a grisly warning to any like-minded sympathisers.


About half the bridge's breadth was…

Albrecht Altdorfer (c. 1480 - 1538) and the Battle of Alexander at Issus

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German born Albrecht Altdorfer lived most (if not all) of his life in Regenberg (Germany), where he served as civic engineer. His election to the town council in 1519 and to the inner council inn 1526 testifies to his high standing in the town. But he is remembered today as one of the most talented painters in the history of German art.

One of Altdorfer's best known works is his epic portrayal of Alexander the Great's victory against the Persian king Darius III at the great battle in Cilicia, near the town of Issus,  on 5 November 333 BC. He depicts the battle from an elevated viewpoint, the battlefield in the foreground with the vast opposing armies, and in the background the eastern Mediterranean with the island of Cyprus in the centre, Egypt and the Nile to the right, and the Gulf of Persia to the left. Alexander is seen on Bucephalus, the wild stallion that only he had been able to master, and which faithfully carried him throughout his Asia campaign, before dying of old ag…