Friday, 18 April 2014

An Easter celebration for Vlad the Impaler of the House of Dracula

Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, son of Vlad II Dracul of the Order of the Dragon, was not a forgiving man.
"I have not the forgiving vein," said he to himself, when he succeeded to the princely throne ten years after his father's assassination.
"Now that I have my throne, my father's aristocratic killers will feel the full force of my wrath and vengeance. But in what devilish way shall I kill them? I know, I will skewer them alive on stakes like I saw in Turkey during my long exile there."

He slated his revenge for Easter Sunday 1457, as on that holy day the whole of the nobility would be gathering at the royal palace to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ.

The day duly arrived, and with the religious ceremony over, the 200 guests made their way to the banqueting hall to glut their appetites on the food and wine graciously provided by their host.
"I like the chicken on sticks," remarked one of the guests, unconscious of the dramatic irony in his choice of words.
"You'll soon have one up your backside," commented Vlad sotto voce.
"I beg your pardon?" said the guest, not hearing what his host said.
"Nothing," replied Vlad. "Have some more wine, then dance a merry measure with the ladies."

The guests danced and pranced in a jolly ambience with their womenfolk, and were so absorbed in their entertainment that did not see Vlad make a sign to one of his henchmen. Immediately the room was invaded by a troop of armed guards, some clutching wooden stakes with nasty pointed ends.

Fear and panic gripped the assembled guests. 
"W-what's happening?" stammered one of the aristocrats.
"The grand finale," said Vlad, with a villainous grin on his villainous face. "To pay for your treason ten years ago, when you treacherously assassinated my father, each head of family will have the honour of being skewed alive with a stake up his aristocratic rectum!"
"Ooh, I'll bet that hurts!" said one of the ladies.
Vlad then turned to his executioner.
'About your work, Mr Executioner,' he ordered.
'Roger that, your majesty,' replied the executioner, and set about his grisly job.

Vlad had the choice of two ways of impaling his unfortunate victims: the Assyrian method, which consisted in lowering the victim sternum first onto the stake; and the Turkish method, in which the victim, still living, is laid prostate on the ground, and the stake delicately pushed inch by inch through his body until it emerges out of his mouth. 

Vlad chose the Turkish method, and he gaily tucked into his meal as the sentences were carried out.
'This meat is jolly nice,' said he to himself. 'I must remember to compliment the chef.'

The prince's Easter celebrations later earned him the name of Vlad the Impaler, and became in the inspiration of Bram Stoker's Dracula novel, as well as countless movies. And Princes Charles, the present heir to the British throne, is said to be a great grandson 16 times removed to the notorious Impaler.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Tintoretto and the St. Mark paintings

St. Mark's Body Brought to Venice
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

'Beautiful colours can be bought in the shops on the Riato, but good drawings can only be bought from the casket of the artist's talent with patient study and nights without sleep.'  Tintoretto.

Born Jacopo Robusti in Venice in 1518, and called Il Tintoretto because his father was a dyer by trade, Tintoretto was part of the triad of great 16th century Venetian artists, along with Titian and Veronese. 

Tintoretto trained in the workshop of Titian and was first mentioned as a master in 1539.

Between 1548 and 1563, he painted several large-scale pictures of the Miracle of St. Mark. According to the painter and engraver Marco Boschini, he would use small wax figures to create the scene that he envisaged in his mind, and then experiment with light sources.

The Miracle of St. Mark (also known as The Miracle of the Slave)
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

This picture was one of four St. Mark subjects that Tintoretto was commissioned to paint in the Scuola de S. Marco, the others being St. Mark's Body Brought to Venice; Finding of the Body of St. Mark; St. Mark Rescuing a Saracen from a Shipwreck. 

Finding of the Body of St. Mark
Pinacoteca de Brera, Milan

St. Mark Rescuing a Saracen from a Shipwreck
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Charles Gallo : Anarchist !

"Long live the Republic! Long live anarchy! Death to the bourgeois magistrature! Long live dynamite!"

Such was the defiant cry of Charles Gallo at his arraignment before the Court of Assizes in Paris on 26 June 1886 following his failed bomb attack on the Paris Stock Exchange almost four months earlier.

"I refuse to be judged by a tribunal of bourgeois!" he hurled at the court after being told he would stand trial three weeks later.


Gallo's life had an austere beginning. His young mother abandoned him at birth, and he spent his first ten years with a family of poor peasants. 

As a young man, though studious, he was not academically gifted, and turned to forging counterfeit money to make an income. But all he got for his pains was five years imprisonment.

Upon his release from prison he searched out the haunts frequented by anarchists, and began to formulate in his head a daring act in one of the shines of the hated bourgeoisie. "What shall it be?" he wondered. "The National Assembly with its corrupt lawmakers? Or the Stock Exchange with its parasitic traders and speculators?" 

He decided on the latter - la Bourse - the Stock Exchange!

The first thing that Charles needed was a bomb, but lacking the means or know-how to make one, he was forced to settle for a flask with 200 grams of prussic acid. He borrowed a revolver from a friend, and on 5 March 1886, wearing a black coat and a black bowler, the 27-year old anarchist made his way to the Bourse.

Once inside, he went up to the south gallery overlooking the trading area, and spent several minutes surveying the repugnant sight of speculators getting rich on the sweat of honest workers. He waited patiently until the bell tolled three to signal the end of the day's trading, and then he made his move.

Unconscious of the presence of a student friend who happened to be standing nearby, Charles darted forward and hurled his 'bomb' onto the trading floor beneath him. But instead of the violent explosion he was expecting, there was only the phhht! of a damp squib, and a bitter aroma.

Undeterred, Charles took out his revolver and quickly discharged two chambers. Both missed their marks. His student friend saw him fire off another three - bang! bang! bang! - in rapid succession, again without result. Then, with only one bullet left, he fixed his sights on a Bourse employee, but didn't pulled the trigger, because, as he later explained at his trial, he thought the man looked poorly dressed. 

Then, suddenly, the adventure was over. A guard overpowered Charles, relieved him of his weapon, and he was escorted to the police station.

Gallo was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment on the penal island of New Caledonia. In prison he continued to vent his spleen with revolutionary invective dipped in vitriol:

'It is because personal property exists that humanity is divided into two enemy classes, those who, through privilege of birth, receive a good education, wealth, luxury, well-being, leisure and material power joined with intellectual domination, and the others, doomed irrevocably to a life of ignorance.'

Then he attacked a guard with a pick and received two bullets in his head. Miraculously, he survived, and was condemned to death, the sentence commuted to hard labour for life. He died around 1903.