“Stanislas Kostka on His Deathbed” 1702-03 by Pierre Le Gros the Younger

Baroque is is an artistic style of the 17th and 18th centuries.

I don’t have anything interesting to say about such a broad artistic movement, but I am absolutely enthralled by this example of Baroque sculpture by Pierre Le Gros the Younger, which can be found in Sant’Andrea al Quirinale, Rome (

According to the Web Gallery of Art,

Here Le Gros’work looks back to the tradition of ecstatic or dying saints created by Bernini and Caffa, but instead of a white marble figure set off by coloured marbles, colour forms an integral part of Le Gros’ work: black touchstone for the Jesuit habit, Sicilian jasper and yellow marble for the bedding, and gilt bronze for the fringe. The saint’s hands, feet and head are carved from white Carrara marble, with the hair left rough and unpolished and the nails and eyes delicately incised (

I remember reading somewhere that ancient Greek sculptures were painted:



However, I am intrigued by the idea of a sculpture with colors that come from the materials themselves.

Here’s a closeup of this amazing work of art, where even the folds of his clothes are detailed and convincing:



There are stories of people entering this room being startled, thinking that this is a real person.  Such a sculpture takes the trompe l’oeil (“fool the eye”) movement in painting to another medium in a fascinating way.

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Barère, Bertrand (1755-1841)

File written by Adobe Photoshop¨ 4.0

Does the Pledge of Allegiance harm American students?  Is it mere indoctrination into loyalty to the government, a way to habituate students into seeing the government as superior to God and family?

The life of of one of the most notorious of the French revolutionaries, Bertrand Barere, made me wonder.

One of his most important reforms in 1793 was “the inculcation of national patriotism through a system of universal elementary education.”  For Barere, faith in the state was to replace faith in the Catholic religion.  His religion of the state was given a “catechism, religious rites, sacred emblems, and mystic devotion (Gershoy).”

Given the vulnerability of young people to indoctrination and propaganda, I have always been suspicious of federal government involvement in education.  I have always assumed that such involvement on a federal level began with President Carter’s creation of the Department of Education in 1979.  However, I was surprised to find that we had a “U.S. Commissioner of Education,” Henry Barnard, as early as 1867.

The use of the educational system to create servants of the state in both Revolutionary France and Nazi Germany make me cautious even of something as seemingly innocuous as a pledge to our flag. It would be ironic indeed if, in their support of the Pledge, the self-proclaimed friends of freedom, conservatives, are actually laying the groundwork for tyranny.


  1. Gershoy, Leo. “Barère, Champion of Nationalism in the French Revolution”. Political Science Quarterly 42.3 (1927): 419–430.  Web.
  2. Photo:

Barnado, Thomas John (1845-1905)

Thomas John Barnado

Was the man who rescued 60,000 orphans actually Jack the Ripper?

Accord to EB, Dr. Barnado was “a pioneer in social work who founded more than 90 homes for destitute children. Under his direction, the children were given care and instruction of high quality despite the then unusual policy of unlimited admittance.”

EB doesn’t mention this, but Wikipedia (“Thomas John Barnado”) does:

At the time of the Whitechapel murders, due to the supposed medical expertise of the Ripper, various doctors in the area were suspected. Barnardo was named a possible suspect. Ripperologist Gary Rowlands theorized that due to Barnardo’s lonely childhood he had anger which led him to murder prostitutes. However, there is no solid evidence he committed the murders. Critics have also pointed out that his age and appearance did not match any of the descriptions of the Ripper.

For comparison with the above photo of Barnado, here is a sketch of the Ripper:


I think this sullying of a good man’s name is a good illustration of the dangers of relying heavily on a less scientific discipline like psychology, especially regarding historical events.  (Sidenote: Even Alice in Wonderland‘s author Lewis Carroll was considered a Ripper suspect!)

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Barbizon School

The Gleaners (1857) by Jean-François Millet

Should selfies be paintings rather than photos?

According to the Barbizon School, a mid-19th-century French school of painting, the answer might be yes.

Barbizon painters were the first to paint landscape in realistic terms and for its own sake (EB). Natural scenes became the subjects of their paintings rather than mere backdrops to dramatic events (Wikipedia, “Barbizon School”).

According to EB:

All of these artists, in spite of their Romantic inspiration, emphasized the simple and ordinary rather than the terrifying and monumental aspects of nature. Unlike their English contemporaries, they had little interest in the surface effects of light and colour or in atmospheric variations. Instead, they emphasized permanent features, painting solid, detailed forms in a limited range of colours. They were also concerned with mood, and they altered physical appearances to express what they saw as the objective “character” of the landscape.

It is this last sentence that caught my eye.  I have heard similar thing about portait painters–that their job is not to capture your likeness exactly, as a photograph would, but to portray your character.  To me, that’s a fascinating idea.

Finally, Wikipedia (“Barbizon School”) points out that

Jean-François Millet extended the idea from landscape to figures — peasant figures, scenes of peasant life, and work in the fields. In The Gleaners (1857), for example, Millet shifted the focus and the subject matter from the rich and prominent to those at the bottom of the social ladders.

And so we see Realism applied to painting, which reminds me of another question I had when reading a poem by Walt Whitman about compost:  Is there any subject that is simply not appropriate for art?

I’ve also noticed that big movements in art tend to come from these causes:

  1. A reaction to dogmatic critical theories, such as those of Plato/Aristotle.  Platonic critics thought that it is more skillful to portray the Ideal than the Real, which meant that Barbizon landscapes were considered less skillful than landscapes that were backdrops for historical scenes.
  2. A reaction to church doctrines (e.g., iconoclastic art).
  3. A cross-fertilization with current cultural trends, particularly in science (e.g., surrealism arose from applying Freud to art).
  4. A cross-fertilization within the arts (e.g., drama and music resulting in opera).

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barbed wire

Did barbed wire put cowboys out of work?

Barbed wire itself was patented in the U.S. in 1867 and a machine for its manufacture in 1874.

EB gives the bare bones on the barbs, but Wikipedia (“barbed wire”), which is quoted below, gives the social implications.

Barbed wire played an important role in the protection of range rights in the Western U.S. It was a much better solution than wooden fences, plain wire fences and planting thorny bushes like the Osage orange.

One fan wrote the inventor Joseph Glidden:

it takes no room, exhausts no soil, shades no vegetation, is proof against high winds, makes no snowdrifts, and is both durable and cheap.

Barbed wire is often cited by historians as the invention that truly tamed the West. Herding large numbers of cattle on open terrain required significant manpower just to catch strays, but with an inexpensive method to divide, sub-divide and allocate parcels of land to control the movement of cattle, the need for a vast labor force became unnecessary. By the beginning of the 20th century the need for significant numbers of cowboys was not necessary.  Some historians have dated the end of the Old West era of American history to the invention and subsequent proliferation of barbed wire.

Weird and scary sidenote:  Barbed wire is also frequently used as a weapon in hardcore professional wrestling matches, often as a covering for another type of weapon—Mick Foley was infamous for using a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire—and infrequently as a covering of or substitute for the ring ropes.  It seems that a glut of entertainment options will inevitably lead to more and more extreme forms as entrepreneurs attempt to stand out from the noise.

Bargello work


Bargello 08

It’s the 17th-century Italian idea that never goes out of style.

Bargello needlework, also called Florentine canvas work, “is a kind of embroidery exemplified in the upholstery of a set of 17th-century Italian chairs at the Bargello in Florence (EB).”  The picture above is a modern version, but a more typical pattern from the era, often called a flame stitch, is the following:


This type of work requires a painstaking precision.

Here are some other modern examples:


Bargello 02

Bargello 03

Bargello 05

Even one that is relatively monotone has its charms:

Bargello 06

They often have a 3D effect:

Jonathan Adler Bargello Diamonds Pillow in Bargello_thumb[1]

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Barlach, Ernst (1870-1938)

Ernst Barlach_The Avenger_64
The Avenger by Ernst Barlach

Barlach was an expressionist sculptor, printmaker and writer.

Schwebender Engel (“Hovering Angel”) by Ernst Barlach

I’m not sure why, but these sculptures appeal to me.  EB describes his work as “modern Gothic,” and says that he features “heavy, massive figures in rigid drapery, animated by a single, forceful movement.”  He “emulated the blocky, rough-hewn quality of wood sculpture to achieve a more brutal effect.”

Since Barlach was an Expressionist, I wanted to know what that movement was. According to Wikipedia (“Expressionism”),  artists sought to express the meaning of emotional experience rather than physical reality.  They  present the world solely from a subjective perspective, distorting it radically for emotional effect in order to evoke moods or ideas.  Here is a clear example of this:

The Scream by Edvard Munch (1893)

It is so rare to get a clear definition of an artistic movement–I usually get lost by a long series of abstractions–so thanks, Wikipedia!

Barlach’s Hovering Angel made me wonder how I’d sculpt an angel.  Should he be heavy, reflecting the power of God, or light and graceful?  Should he be frightening, since every Biblical character but Mary was frightened out of their wits by an angel’s appearance?  I would definitely dispense with the wings, not only because they are a cliche, but also because most moderns don’t realize that they were simply a medieval symbol for the speed of God’s messenger.

How would you sculpt an angel?

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