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Dirk Puehl
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"I deny nothing, but doubt everything.” Lord Byron
"I deny nothing, but doubt everything.” Lord Byron

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27 February 1855, #onthisday the Bohemian painter Jakub Schikaneder was born in Prague.

It was the Habsburg’s spearheading of Germanisation since the Thirty Years’ War that reduced Czech language almost to being the means of lower class communication and hindered the further development of genuine Czech fine arts for almost two hundred years. The nationalist revivals of those downtrodden by the major empires of the age at the beginning of the 19th century, from Dublin to Warsaw, Athens and Kiev, saw a rise of Czech identity as well, first in language and writing, then with fixed bayonets on the barricades of the revolution of 1848 and finally in music and the visual arts a generation later. And while the first notable Czech painters took up the style taught at the Imperial Academies and celebrated under these auspices their own Slavic and Bohemian identity-establishing heroes and heroines, only a few years later modernity caught up with their successors who began to work with the various –isms of the second half of the 19th century’s art trends. They studied in Paris, naturally, in Vienna, Düsseldorf and Munich and one aspiring artist from Prague was quite taken with the Munich School’s subtle blend of Academic Art, elapsing Romanticism, Baroque Chiaroscuro and a note of Impressionism. Jakub Schikaneder who would develop the style into imagery with a morbid and mysterious All Saints Day mood, sometimes gloomy enough to let even the sulkiest of his Russian contemporaries appear like they were merrily morbid Viennese.

But read more on:

http://wunderkammertales.blogspot.de/2017/02/very-picturesque-melancholy-prague.html

Depicted below is Jakub Schikaneder’s "Early Evening on the Hradčany" (around 1900)

#art #europeanart #arthistory

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14 January - between the 9th and the 15th century, the Feast of the Ass was celebrated by Medieval Christianity north of the Alps.

No one in his right mind would mention Protestantism for its inherent sense of humour and the Reformation and the dawn of the early modern age saw the end of quite a lot of rather peculiar medieval customs, among them the Feast of Fools and the Feast of the Ass. The latter was a celebration of the anniversary of the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt and since an ass played a pivotal role, basically, maybe the same beast that was present at the nativity, it was thought befitting that asses would receive their own feast day. Thus, a girl carrying a child rode a donkey through the church, the animal would then be placed beside the altar and the congregation would answer the priest with a hearty “hee-haw”.

But read more on:

http://wunderkammertales.blogspot.de/2015/01/the-feast-of-ass.html


Depicted below is Albrecht Dürer’s "Flight from Egypt" (c 1495)

#europeanhistory #folklore #history #medievalhistory #mythology



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5 January – #onthisday on the eve of Epiphany, La Befana the Christmas Witch flies through the night and brings gifts to children in Italy.

Once upon a time there lived an old woman east of Suez who was known as the best housekeeper near and far. Her reputation preceded here and thus it was no wonder that three wise men stopped by at her house on a cold January evening and asked her for accommodation. They came from the East they said and were led by a star towards Bethlehem to praise the infant. The crone did not complain about tales from oriental fortune tellers at all, did not even accuse them of being led by a bottle rather than a star and even considered to join them to pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews and do a lot of praising and all that. Alas, top notch maintaining of a household famously is not work done by itself and the lady told the three Magi to go on ahead, she would just tidy up, arrange a few things and join them later on the road. And finally, when everything was shipshape and Bristol-fashion, she packed her things, heaved a sigh and set out on the road to Bethlehem. Alas, a sense of direction apparently was not her strong side and soon she was lost and wandered the roads and asked every girl and boy she met on her way if he or she was the infant and gave them sweetmeats when they shook their heads and on she marched to this very day. On every night before Three King’s Day, Epiphany, she appears to ask her way and give sweets to children in return and became known as Befana after La Festa dell'Epifania. And since old habits tend to stick, she sometimes even cleans the house and is glad to find a glass of wine and something to eat left for her.

But read more on

http://wunderkammertales.blogspot.co.uk/2017/01/viene-viene-la-befana-on-befana-italys.html

Depicted below is Rembrandt van Rijn's (attr.) "Girl with a Broom" (around 1650)

#folklore #mythology #befana

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4 January 1866, #onthisday the Catalan artist Ramon Casas i Carbó was born in Barcelona.


The end of the 19th century saw a cultural Renaissance in Catalonia, recovering the half forgotten Catalan language and culture, while the region grew into a centre of Spanish industrialism and became the largest textile producer in the Mediterranean – and Barcelona had quite a wake-up from its deep slumber while a rather large portion of the Catalan populace became industrial proletariat and the place closed up with other European cities on the threshold of the 20th century and modernity. On the credit side of the account, Catalonia saw a literally explosion of the arts as well. Fed up with the Romanesque and Gothic revival architecture of the period, Modernisme Català, Catalan Modernism, became a movement in the visual arts, music and literature and, with Antoni Gaudi, a paragon in modern architecture. And while Barcelona grew into the city with the most art nouveau buildings in the whole wide world, artists met at the Els 4 Gats (or Els Quatre Gats, the “four tomcats”) café, discussed, drank and took care that Modernisme became probably the most progressive variant of art nouveau. One of the founders and regulars of the artistic hotspot was the painter Ramon Casas i Carbó.

But read more on:

http://wunderkammertales.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/down-at-els-4-gats-cafe-catalan-artist.html


Depicted below is Ramon Casas i Carbó's impression of himself and the cultural promoter Pere Romeu in an automobile, first displayed in the Els 4 Gats café (1900)

#art #arthistory #europeanart


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3 January 1892, #onthisday 125 years ago, the scholar and author J.R.R. Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa.


When the “Lord of the Rings” was finally published during the mid-1950s, it was received in war-weary Western Europe with what might be described in hindsight as a well-mannered “Harry Potter” craze – on a sophisticated, literary critical level as well as by a large reading audience that was simply enchanted by a world created around the languages Tolkien had initially invented in an act that took the philologist more than twenty-five years. With its condensation of Norse, Finnish and various legends into an artificial mythology shaped by Tolkien’s Catholicism, an idyllic environment with clearly defined borders between Good and Evil, the tales from Middle Earth proved to be an ideal remedy against the fast growing disenchantment of the world, a process that begun more than a hundred years before with the rise of Industrialism and artists’ and their audience’s counterdrafts to ward off the gospel of rationality and utility of a world shaped by steam and speed and steel and various degrees of political radicalisation.

But read more on:

http://wunderkammertales.blogspot.de/2015/01/he-had-been-inside-language-jrr-tolkien.html


Depicted below is a wonderful image of J.R.R. Tolkien by the American artist Audrey Benjaminsen.

#europeanliterature #literature #literaturehistory #mythology



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31 December 1853, #onthisday a New Year's Eve dinner, hosted by the future first director of London’s Natural History Museum Sir Richard Owen and the artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins, was held inside the mould of a life-sized Iguanodon sculpture in Crystal Palace Park.

The “Age of Reptiles”, as the first half of the 19th century was named under the auspices of the emerging science of paleontology, was rang in when Georges Cuvier dubbed the owner of a giant skull found near Maastricht a Mosasaurus, lizard of the river Meuse. Meanwhile, Mary Anning discovered the marine fossil beds at Lyme Regis in Dorset and Mary Ann Mantell stumbled over the teeth of an Iguanodon during a stroll in Sussex. But it was Sir Richard Owen who coined the name Dinosauria from Greek δεινός (deinos) "terrible, powerful, wondrous" and σαῦρος (sauros) "lizard". Owen, a well-connected and -funded conservator and career scientist with a bit of a reputation of hogging the finds and achievements of others, certainly had a well developed sense of gaining publicity and placing his scientific theories on the market of public interest. When the Crystal Palace was moved to Sydenham Hill in Kent after the Great Exhibition of 1851 ended, Owen and his publications were popular enough for the operating company of the new pleasure park to ask him to cooperate with the natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins to create 33 life-sized concrete dinosaurs that would populate the place.


But read more on:

http://wunderkammertales.blogspot.de/2015/01/a-dino-lovers-dream-1853s-new-years-eve.html


#culturalhistory #sciencehistory #victoriana



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30 December 1865, #onthisday the short-story writer, poet and novelist Rudyard Kipling was born in Mumbai (Bombay).

“There will always be plenty in Kipling that I will find difficult to forgive; but there is also enough truth in these stories to make them impossible to ignore.”—Salman Rushdie


When the Widow of Windsor died in 1901 an era ended and things would never be the same again. A sentiment not only developed by historians in hindsight, but already felt by the contemporaries. Accordingly, art historians and literary scholars mark the year as the beginning of Classic Modernism, even though authors expressed themselves at least since the Romantic era under the auspices of the apparently new epoch, with a fragmented world view, changes of narrative perspective and especially the heavy focus on things psychological, insights and perceptions, up to re-telling a stream of consciousness, the transient, the fleeting, the contingent, as Baudelaire put it already in 1862. Nevertheless, a traditional approach on telling a story, eloquent and captivating but without experimental embellishment, was still cherished and writers like Wells, Conrad and Kipling continued the success they had during the last years of the 19th century, but few achieved a literary depth as Kipling without neglecting the story itself.

But read more on:

http://wunderkammertales.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/the-polyphonous-prophet-of-british.html

Depicted below is John Collier’s (1850 – 1934) portrait of Rudyard Kipling (1891)

#europeanliterature #literature #victoriana


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29 December 1860, #onthisday HMS “Warrior”, the first British seagoing ironclad warship, was launched at Blackwall, London.


The advent of steam power was supposed to change everything in seafaring. By and large, steam-powered ships were faster than rag wagons, more manoeuvrable and, of course, quite independent from which way the winds blew, close to dangerous lee shores as well as in the doldrums of the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. However, the large paddle-wheels necessary to propel a vessel were highly vulnerable, diminished the space a warship needed for her broadside mounted guns considerably and, on a strategic level, required large coal bunkers around the world to keep an ocean-going fleet going that was supposed to rule the waves and protect the sea lanes of a world-spanning empire. The British admiralty had thus every reason to remain conservative and commission further wooden sailing ships-of-the-line and frigates, but a generation after the Battle of Trafalgar, the industrial age came at the Royal Navy with a vengeance and a few groundbreaking inventions made the old wooden walls useless almost overnight - screw propellers that superseded the paddle wheels, explosive shells, the armour necessary for protecting a ship against them and the possibility to construct iron hulls.

But read more on:

http://wunderkammertales.blogspot.de/2015/02/our-first-armourclad-ship-of-war-would.html


#ageofsail #europeanhistory #history #militaryhistory #navalhistory



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28 December 1924, #onthisday the Russian painter and scene- and costume designer Léon Bakst died in Paris at the age of 58.


It is not uncommon for the late times of an epoch to produce not only the yearning for exquisite beauty but to mould the necessary artists from the clay of conservative art. On the eve of the Great War, some of them devoted themselves to celebrate beauteousness instead of exploring the abysses of the soul and the edges of perception and created a total art style that encompassed everything from poster ads and cigarette cases to cathedrals, Art Nouveau, Sezession, Jugendstil, the modern style. In Imperial Russia it took one genius of an impresario to make the dance on the volcano a Gesamtkunstwerk, a total work of art, Serge Diaghilev. His “Ballets Russes” encompassed composers like Debussy, Prokofiev, Ravel and, of course, Stravinksy, on stage was, among other celebrities of the time, the “God of Dance” himself, Vaslav Nijinsky and his costumes and stage designs emerged as a new art form and his chief designer was Léon Bakst.

But read more on:

http://wunderkammertales.blogspot.de/2015/02/the-russian-painter-and-scene-and.html


Depicted below is "La Sultane Bleue" - Léon Bakst's costume design for Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade" (1910)


#art #arthistory #europeanart



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27 December 1831, #onthisday HMS “Beagle” left Plymouth and set out on her famous “Second Voyage”, a surveying expedition that took her around the world and would be momentous for the foundation of evolutionary biology.

Brig sloops of “Beagle’s” “Cherokee”-class were first commissioned in 1808 and quickly required a bit of a bad reputation as “coffin ships”. Not entirely without reason. Of the 104 ships of the class, almost one fourth was lost at sea during the three decades they saw active service. It wasn’t that there design was faulty as such, but the 90’ long 237 ton vessels were probably a bit too small for their global missions as packet ships between the continents and on their survey missions across the world. HMS “Beagle” herself saw service since 1820 and was the first warship that sailed under old London Bridge during the naval review to mark the coronation festivities of King George IV during the same year, a couple of years before Rennie’s “New” London Bridge was opened. By then, HMS “Beagle” already had her first voyage to South America completed and was again captained by 26 years old Lieutenant Robert FitzRoy who assumed command after his commanding officer Pringle Stokes committed suicide during the obviously extremely boring first mission off Tierra del Fuego. Against this background and mindful of his uncle, the former British foreign secretary Viscount Castlereagh, who ended his own life in 1822, FitzRoy, who struggled with depressions for all his life himself, insisted on a suitable gentleman companion to come along on the “Beagle’s” long second voyage. Finally, a young theologian with a keen interest in geology was found – Charles Darwin.


But read more on:

http://wunderkammertales.blogspot.de/2013/12/charles-darwin-and-hms-beagles-second.html


Depicted below is HMS Beagle during survey work off Tierra del Fuego, with native Fuegians hailing her, by Conrad Martens, around 1832

#ageofsail #culturalhistory #navalhistory #sciencehistory


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