Category Archives: Classics

Life Was Better on Coke!

It’s difficult to believe now, but a little more than a century ago, cocaine was perfectly legal in the United States and many other countries. In fact, cocaine was once a key ingredient in Coca Cola – hence, the name – a fact the company doesn’t discuss too readily. Before scientists realized the intensity of cocaine’s psychoactive drawbacks, it was a widely-prescribed medicinal remedy for just about everything from hay fever to tooth aches.

As the U.S. continues its treacherous “War on Drugs,” some in the medical community are actually daring to re-consider the potential value of the coca plant. The indigenous peoples of South America’s Pacific coastal areas cultivated the plant for millennia. Knowing that these were the same folks who charted the planets and constructed buildings that remain standing today, they might have been on to something.

Still, take a look at these late 19th century editorials describing cocaine’s benefits and wonder – like I do, sitting at the computer all day – if the agonizing blogger’s butt could be a thing of the past.

Image courtesy the U.S. Library of Congress.

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From Candlelight and Beyond!

Electricity-in-Industry

Those of us who make our living via computers can’t imagine going back in time even to word processors, much less manual typewriters. Even discs of linoleum byproducts known as records now seem ancient. But, less than a century ago there were plenty of people who hadn’t quite adapted to the concept of something we now take for granted: electricity.

Electricity has a lengthy and complicated history. You might as well ask who invented the wheel or the toothbrush. Sitting in my parents’ home are four relics of a seemingly bygone era – kerosene lamps. They belonged to my paternal grandparents; my father recalls the lamps being put to use during World War II “lights out” drills.

Yet, with the exception of some rural areas, electricity had become relatively commonplace by the 1940s. Just two decades earlier, however, electric companies began making concerted attempts to convince both businesses and individuals of electricity’s usefulness. Here’s an ad that ran in the October 5, 1920 issue of the “New York Tribune,” in which the New York Edison Company (now ConEdison) states its case:

“Never before have the questions of economy and efficiency in production been of such importance as now in the industrial life of the country. This is true in the large plant as all as in the small shop. Electricity is proving the most effective agency in solving these various problems as they arise.”

By 1900, 30 electricity companies existed in the New York City area. In 1920, New York Edison constructed a power generation facility that could generate up to 770,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh). Today New York City uses about 100,000 kWh per minute.

One unfortunate side invention? Utility bills!

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Medieval Women in Art

When you think of famous medieval artists, what names usually come to mind? Leonardo da Vinci? Lorenzo Ghiberti? Donatello? Most likely. But, if the question is narrowed down to medieval female artists, can you name just one? Neither can I.

It’s highly probable that women were just as much a part of the artistic Renaissance that swept across Europe beginning around the 12th century A.D. – and not dishing up water and tea to the male artists, or serving as models along pastoral backdrops. Sadly, the names of most of these women weren’t recorded in the history books. But, at least one Renaissance contemporary, Giovanni Boccaccio, made an attempt with “De Mulieribus Claris (Famous Women or On Famous Women or Of Famous Women).” First published in 1374, the tome is actually a collection of biographies of famous women in literature and history; from the biblical Eve to Queen Giovanna I of Naples. Boccaccio is best known for “Decameron,” a collection of 100 tales told by seven young women and three young men who sought refuge outside Florence from the “Black Death,” which was ravaging the city and much of Europe at the time. But, in “De Mulieribus Claris,” Boccaccio takes on the more serious themes of daily life, politics, wealth and individual talents – pretty much from an exclusively female vantage point. That, in itself, was a rarity in such a patriarchal environment as 14th century Europe.

The handful of delineations here represent what surely is an unwritten chapter in artistic lore. The names and life stories of these women may be unknown at this time. But, the determination of art historians could help to rewrite the narratives of these mysterious foremothers. Thank you to art blogger Barbara Wells Sarudy for this extraordinary presentation.

Also reference “Painting and Writing in Medieval Law,” by Marta Madero.

Unknown artist from detail of a miniature of ancient Greek artist Thamyris (Timarete) painting her picture of the goddess Diana, N. France, (Rouen). The original is in the British Library collection ID 43537, c 1400-25.

Unknown artist from detail of a miniature of ancient Greek artist Thamyris (Timarete) painting her picture of the goddess Diana, N. France, (Rouen). The original is in the British Library collection ID 43537, c 1400-25.

Unknown artist ‘Marcia Painting Self-Portrait using Mirror,’ from Giovanni Boccaccio, “De Mulieribus Claris,” anonymous French translation, Le livre de femmes nobles et renomees, France, c 1440 British Library Artiste faisant son autoportrait.

Unknown artist ‘Marcia Painting Self-Portrait using Mirror,’ from Giovanni Boccaccio, “De Mulieribus Claris,” anonymous French translation, Le livre de femmes nobles et renomees, France, c 1440 British Library Artiste faisant son autoportrait.

Unknown artist from Giovanni Boccaccio, “De Mulieribus Claris,” anonymous French translation, Le livre de femmes nobles et renomees, France, c 1440 British Library.

Unknown artist from Giovanni Boccaccio, “De Mulieribus Claris,” anonymous French translation, Le livre de femmes nobles et renomees, France, c 1440 British Library.

Unknown artist from Giovanni Boccaccio, “De Mulieribus Claris,” anonymous French translation, Le livre de femmes nobles et renomees, France, c 1440 British Library Autoportrait sur bois.

Unknown artist from Giovanni Boccaccio, “De Mulieribus Claris,” anonymous French translation, Le livre de femmes nobles et renomees, France, c 1440 British Library Autoportrait sur bois.

Unknown artist from Giovanni Boccaccio, “De Mulieribus Claris,” anonymous French translation, Le livre de femmes nobles et renomees, France, c 1440 British Library Autoportrait sur bois.

Unknown artist from Giovanni Boccaccio, “De Mulieribus Claris,” anonymous French translation, Le livre de femmes nobles et renomees, France, c 1440 British Library Autoportrait sur bois.

Unknown artist from Giovanni Boccaccio, “De Mulieribus Claris,” anonymous French translation, Le livre de femmes nobles et renomees, France, c 1440 British Library Artiste préparant une fresque.

Unknown artist from Giovanni Boccaccio, “De Mulieribus Claris,” anonymous French translation, Le livre de femmes nobles et renomees, France, c 1440 British Library Artiste préparant une fresque.

Unknown artist from Giovanni Boccaccio, “Des cléres et nobles femmes,” Spencer Collection MS. 33, f. 37v, French, c. 1470 Artist in her Atelier.

Unknown artist from Giovanni Boccaccio, “Des cléres et nobles femmes,” Spencer Collection MS. 33, f. 37v, French, c. 1470 Artist in her Atelier.

Unknown artist from Giovanni Boccaccio, “De Mulieribus Claris,” anonymous French translation, Le livre de femmes nobles et renomees, France, c 1440 British Library Femme Sculpteur.

Unknown artist from Giovanni Boccaccio, “De Mulieribus Claris,” anonymous French translation, Le livre de femmes nobles et renomees, France, c 1440 British Library Femme Sculpteur.

Roman des Girart von Roussillon, Cod. 2449, f. 167v, Flemish, 1447, Österreichishe Nationalbibliothek, Vienna. Women Building.

Roman des Girart von Roussillon, Cod. 2449, f. 167v, Flemish, 1447, Österreichishe Nationalbibliothek, Vienna. Women Building.

From Tabula Picta, “Painting and Writing in Medieval Law,” Marta Madero.

From Tabula Picta, “Painting and Writing in Medieval Law,” Marta Madero.

From Tabula Picta, “Painting and Writing in Medieval Law,” Marta Madero.

From Tabula Picta, “Painting and Writing in Medieval Law,” Marta Madero.

Royal 16 G V f. 73v Irene, Giovanni Boccaccio, “De Mulieribus Claris,” anonymous French translation, Le livre de femmes nobles et renomees, France, c 1440 British Library.

Royal 16 G V f. 73v Irene, Giovanni Boccaccio, “De Mulieribus Claris,” anonymous French translation, Le livre de femmes nobles et renomees, France, c 1440 British Library.

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First Known Photographs of Jerusalem

Jerusalem is one of the oldest and most continually-occupied cities in the world. It has a rich history, and it’s disgraceful that it has remain mired in the ongoing battle between religious and political factions that occupy the region. Still, it holds a special place in the collective hearts of the faithful.

Earlier this year the Smithsonian Institution released what are believed to be the first photographs ever taken of the city. They date to 1844 and were taken by French photographer Joseph Girault de Prangney. De Prangney was a pioneer in the field of daguerreotypes, but he’s not well known among aficionados of art and photography. He studied painting at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and learned about daguerreotypes in 1841, the same year inventor Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre publicly demonstrated the process. It’s unclear if de Prangney studied daguerreotypes directly under Daguerre or one of the latter’s associates. But, he developed a fascination with the new art form and meshed it with his interest in the Middle East. In 1842, he embarked on a three-year tour of Italy Greece, Egypt, Turkey, Syria and Palestine. He carried hundreds of pounds of photography equipment and produced more than 800 daguerreotypes. If you understand how cumbersome photography equipment of the day was and how long it took to make just one daguerreotype, then you’ll truly appreciate his dedication.

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Early 20th Century Russia in Color

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii was a Russian chemist who also dabbled in photography. He captured some extraordinary pictures of average Russian citizens in the years immediately preceding World War I. They’re even more fascinating because they’re in color. By the start of the 20th century, photography had become a regular part of life for many people. But, color photography, in particular, was still a luxury. With limited materials and equipment, its practitioners had a small window of opportunity for snagging the natural color elements of their subjects. It’s one reason why early color photographs often look more like chalk drawings.

Prokudin-Gorskii studied the works of James Clerk Maxwell, a Scottish physicist who, in 1861, took the first known color photograph. Photographs were taken in standard black and white and then “colorized” with filters of the three primary colors: red, blue and green. The photos would be put through filters of the same three primary colors and then, projected onto a screen. People could view the final product by peering through an optical device called a chromoscope or a photochromoscope. The actual process is known as additive color, which involves the combination of two or more colors to create the perception of yet another color.

Here are just a handful of the many photographs Prokudin-Gorskii took during his travels across imperial Russia, including one of the legendary Leo Tolstoy and a self-portrait.

Peasant girls, 1909.

Peasant girls, 1909.

The Emir of Bukhara, 1911.

The Emir of Bukhara, 1911.

Lau-Dzhen-Dzhau, foreman of a tea factory in Chakva, ca. 1907-1915.

Lau-Dzhen-Dzhau, foreman of a tea factory in Chakva, ca. 1907-1915.

Melon vendor, 1911.

Melon vendor, 1911.

Group of Jewish children with a teacher, 1911.

Group of Jewish children with a teacher, 1911.

Group of children, 1909.

Group of children, 1909.

Uzbek woman, ca. 1907-1915.

Uzbek woman, ca. 1907-1915.

Dagestan couple, ca. 1907-1915.

Dagestan couple, ca. 1907-1915.

A Sart (Turkestani) man, 1911.

A Sart (Turkestani) man, 1911.

“Three Generations”, 1910.

“Three Generations”, 1910.

Turkmenistan man with camel, ca. 1907-1915.

Turkmenistan man with camel, ca. 1907-1915.

A Zindan (prison), ca. 1907-1915.

A Zindan (prison), ca. 1907-1915.

Migrant family, ca. 1907-1915.

Migrant family, ca. 1907-1915.

Workers harvesting tea, ca. 1907-1915.

Workers harvesting tea, ca. 1907-1915.

Nomadic Kirghiz, 1911.

Nomadic Kirghiz, 1911.

Pinkhus Karlinskii – Supervisor of Chernigov Floodgate, 1909.

Pinkhus Karlinskii – Supervisor of Chernigov Floodgate, 1909.

Hay gathering, 1909.

Hay gathering, 1909.

Work at the Bakalskii Mine Pit, 1910.

Work at the Bakalskii Mine Pit, 1910.

Outside Petrozavodsk on the Murmansk Railway, 1915.

Outside Petrozavodsk on the Murmansk Railway, 1915.

Monks at work, 1910.

Monks at work, 1910.

Weighing section, ca. 1907-1915.

Weighing section, ca. 1907-1915.

Hay storage, 1910.

Hay storage, 1910.

Village of Kolchedan, 1912.

Village of Kolchedan, 1912.

A view of Tiflis from the grounds of Saint David Church, ca. 1907-1915.

A view of Tiflis from the grounds of Saint David Church, ca. 1907-1915.

City of Tobol’sk from the Bell Tower of the Church of the Transfiguration, 1912.

City of Tobol’sk from the Bell Tower of the Church of the Transfiguration, 1912.

Abandoned chapel near the city of Belozersk, 1909.

Abandoned chapel near the city of Belozersk, 1909.

View of a monastery from the Solarium, 1910.

View of a monastery from the Solarium, 1910.

27) View-of-the-Monastery-from-the-Solarium-1910

Shakh-i Zinde Mosque, 1911.

Shakh-i Zinde Mosque, 1911.

A stork in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, 1911.

A stork in Bukhara, Uzbekistan, 1911.

Ekaterinin Spring, ca. 1907-1915.

Ekaterinin Spring, ca. 1907-1915.

Leo Tolstoy in Yasnaya Polyana, 1908.

Leo Tolstoy in Yasnaya Polyana, 1908.

Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky self-portrait at the Korolistskali River, 1912.

Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky self-portrait at the Korolistskali River, 1912.

 

Courtesy U.S. Library of Congress.

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Lord Above

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As this Easter weekend comes to an end, I wanted to highlight one of my favorite paintings of Jesus, the Christ: Salvador Dalí’s “Christ of Saint John of the Cross.” Produced in 1951, it is a perfect example of surrealism. But, it also presents Jesus at perhaps his most vulnerable. The viewer sees him from God’s vantage point; making the Savior look as humble and helpless as the average person.

Dalí based his delineation on a drawing by a 16th century Spanish friar, John of the Cross.  As befitting his eccentric personality, Dalí had a perfect explanation for his inspiration. “In the first place, in 1950, I had a ‘cosmic dream,’ in which I saw this image in color and which in my dream represented the ‘nucleus of the atom.’ This nucleus later took on a metaphysical sense. I considered it ‘the very unity of the universe,’ the Christ!”

To create the unique angle and obtain a true sense of how the human male form would look, Dalí enlisted Hollywood stuntman Russell Saunders to be suspended from an overhead galley. The painting first appeared in public at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, Scotland on June 23, 1952 – and became an instant source of controversy. Many considered it blasphemous, even though a traditional crucifix can be turned over and produce the same view. Others saw it as just plain tacky.

Dalí, who died in 1989, had a simple understanding of his own art. “Surrealism is destructive. But, it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision.”

The crucifixion sketch by St. John of the Cross – the inspiration for Dalí’s drawing.

The crucifixion sketch by St. John of the Cross – the inspiration for Dalí’s drawing.

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A Half Century and Still Running

Mustang 071

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the Ford Mustang – the iconic vehicle that ushered in the modern age of the muscle car. Apparently, owning a Mustang is like chocolate, orchids, fine wine and back massages: once is never enough.

Admittedly, I’m not a Mustang fan, even though I have a model replica of the 1968 Steve McQueen “Bullitt” car. Few vehicles have been so heavily marketed in advance of their official introduction, or have created such an enduring mystique. It’s hard to imagine now, but at the time, the car cost $2,500. But, the advertising paid off: Ford sold 22,000 Mustangs the first day. By the end of 1964, they had sold 263,434.

Available in only two models – the coupe and the convertible – it had a 210-horsepower (no pun intended, 6-cylinder, V-8 engine, wall-to-wall carpeting, bucket front seats, a floor-mounted gear shift – all in about 180 inches in length. It’s definitely an icon, and even though, it’s endured a number of metamorphoses over the past half century, the Mustang is still – well – running strong.

A Mustang Prototype from 1962.

A Mustang Prototype from 1962.

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