Napoleon on the Nile at the Frye

 How did 19th century artists and scientists come to rediscover Egypt and the Middle East? How did the images and explorations of those artists and scientists spark “Egyptomania” as a cultural phenomenon?

Two museums in the Puget Sound area try to answer those questions with complementary exhibitions that look at Egypt and the Middle East through the eyes of those 19th century artists and scientists.

Monumental figures of Pharaohs carved from the living rock, impressing and intimidating Continue reading “Napoleon on the Nile at the Frye”

David and Brutus

The gifts of a great artist can be used to further political ends. Jacques-Louis David, painter of the French revolutionary era, created several wonderful paintings that were fraught with political and social meaning, but are still notable on a purely artistic level.

One such painting tells a remarkable story. Called Brutus, or Lictors Returning the to Brutus the Bodies of his Sons, it is officially titled more grandly as “J. Brutus, first consul, has returned to his home after having condemned his two sons, who had joined the Tarquins and conspired against Roman liberty; lictors bring back the bodies so that they may be given burial.” David painted this during the first year of the French Revolution. King Louis XVI was beset with turmoil and there was a powerful political current to depose him. It was during this tumultuous time that David decided to illustrate an episode from Roman history.

Tarquin the Proud had been the King of Rome, and according to legend he was an abusive Continue reading “David and Brutus”

30,000 Years of Art: The Story of Human Creativity

30,000 Years of Art: The Story of Human Creativity Image source: Battle of San Romano http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Paolo_Uccello_035.jpgAcross Time and Space  inspires readers to think about art in a different way.  Accessible and not stuffy, this work looks chronologically across the centuries of art in a way that avoids the thematic conventions and classifications of the way we typically study art history.

This makes for a freeing and fun way to look at cross-cultural development. When the great painters of the Renaissance were at their peak, what was art like in other parts of the globe? Paolo Uccello’s iconic Battle of San Romano is opposite from representational Afghani art, both created within years of each other. This serendipity of comparison is part of the joy of the book. From a later era is the famous Jacques-Louis David painting of a proud and haughty Napoleon, astride a rearing charger as he crosses the Alps, across from a proud and haughty Persian shah, with scimitar and scepter. They are the same type of domineering personalities, mirroring each other but within their own culture. Similar delightful surprises wait upon each page turn.

This is a great browsing book but also literally a weighty tome, at over 12 pounds.  Pull up a sturdy table and a comfortable chair. Settle in and enjoy the tour.  ~ Carl

Gentrification and the Arts

Beautiful Things That Heaven BearsIf you have picked up this year’s Seattle Reads novel, The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu you’ve had a chance to get one novelist’s take on some of the issues and pressures that can fracture a community changing in the face of gentrification and immigration.

Facing similar issues, particularly those of gentrification pressures, local Capitol Hill artists, arts activists, neighbors and interested citizens are gathering at Seattle City Hall in April to discuss community concerns about rapidly diminishing affordable space for arts uses in the City’s core neighborhoods. Get details at:

Make Room for Art: Cultural Overlay Districts for Seattle
April 2, 5pm-6:30pm, Seattle City Hall

City Councilmembers will hear from Seattle residents, arts and entertainment venues and organizations, property owners, developers, and officials on how the Council might go about establishing an overlay district to offer incentives and controls in a specific area to encourage or preserve particular kinds of activities, spaces, and/or design. How can the city grow in a healthy balanced way that benefits all? This could be an exciting opportunity to add your voice as “A City Makes Herself.”

The Romans are here: are you ready?

Where would you stay if you were able to visit ancient Rome, say in 200 AD? What would you have for dinner? Where would you go for entertainment? What tips would help you survive on those mean, mean, streets?

Ancient Rome on Five Denarii a Day by Philip Matyszak purports to be a travel guide for back then, not for use in touring today’s Rome of ruins and broken monuments. Of course, it really does help us understand current Rome’s glorious past and fallen stones by providing context for this era’s readers. Full of travel advice for ancient tourists and loaded with chatty suggestions about local customs, this humorous guide is a fun way to learn about life in the ancient city, and should be an great read for history buffs and for fans of historical mysteries in the Steven Saylor or Lindsey Davis line. Fine illustrations, many in color, show views from that toga-clad world.

Working the same turf but in a much more straightforward and serious way is Rome from the Ground Up by James H. S. McGregor. This guide looks at the many historical versions of Rome that are layered on top of each other and form the basis for the current city. Chronologically examining each era’s city, beginning with the founding of the village by the Tiber and extending to modern times, the guide explains how the structures and landscapes came to be and how they influenced the next development in the same spaces. The well-chosen and frequent illustrations support a clear and understandable writing style, although I often wished for larger format images. Designed in a post-Internet style, the book’s images mimic thumbnail images on a web page, which can frustrate a reader trying to see the details of what is being discussed. An over dependence on white space and the small font cause the book to run long at 344 pages, and printed on heavy paper and weighing in at nearly 2 pounds, this undermines the author’s goal of having the guide used by travelers in the field. Still, this is a book that would be very useful upon a return from Rome, explaining the intriguing and mysterious buildings that are often missed by conventional travel guides.

The Seattle Art Museum is hosting a fabulous Roman exhibit opening February 22nd through May 11. Find out more about SAM’s Roman Art from the Louvre exhibit.

~posted by Carl