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THE NIGHT WATCH

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This week for our cultural article, we will be examining Rembrandt’s (1606 – 1669) 1642 painting, “The Night Watch.”

“The Night Watch” represents a style of painting that was unique to Holland and the northern Netherlands during the 17th century: the Schuttersstuk. Furthermore, Rembrandt’s rendition is, in and of itself, a highly original rendition in that it does not rely upon the typical rows of figures common to the style. Instead, Rembrandt’s painting featured animated subjects engaged in the various duties and responsibilities of the Civic Guard.

Painted using oils on a 142.9 by 172.0-inch canvas, “The Night Watch” is Rembrandt’s largest painting. Despite its title, the painting is actually set during the day. The reason the painting’s background looks so dark is that the varnish Rembrandt used darkened over the years. It was restored to its original glory in the 1940s, but the name “The Night Watch” stuck. On a side note, it is interesting to observe Rembrandt’s well-known use of the technique ‘chiaroscuror’ (Italian for ‘light-dark’) which uses light and dark to create dramatic contrasts and a sense of three-dimensionality.

Painted during the Dutch Golden Age, Rembrandt was commissioned to create the painting by the Kloveniersdolen – the guild hall of the Amsterdam Civic Guard Company of Musketeers. In the Netherlands, Civic Guardsmen were tasked with the defence of their cities, the maintenance of law and order, firefighting, and forming a strong presence during festivities and parades for visiting royalty. Each company of Civic Guardsmen had its own guild hall decorated, according to tradition, with group portraits of distinguished members. These portraits were designed to evoke a sense of affinity between the members of the company and asserted their power and status within the cities they protected.

THE CONSEQUENCES OF WAR

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This week we will be examining Sir Peter Paul Ruben’s (1577 – 1640) 1639 masterpiece, the Consequences of War.

In 1638, Rubens wrote a letter to Justus Sustermans (1597 – 1681), the court painter to the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Ferdinanda II de Medici (1610 – 1670), explaining the painting’s meaning:”The principal figure is Mars, who has left the open temple of Janus (which in time of peace,

“The principal figure is Mars, who has left the open temple of Janus (which in time of peace, according to Roman custom, remained closed) and rushes forth with shield and blood-stained sword, threatening the people with great disaster.  He pays little heed to Venus, his mistress, who, accompanied by Amors and  Cupids, strives with caresses and embraces to hold him. From the other side, Mars is dragged forward by the Fury Alekto, with a torch in her hand.  Nearby are monsters personifying Pestilence and Famine,  those inseparable partners of War.  On the ground, turning her back, lies a woman with a broken lute,  representing Harmony, which is incompatible with the discord of War.  There is also a mother with her child in her arms, indicating that fecundity, procreation and charity are thwarted by War, which corrupts and destroys everything. In addition, one sees an architect thrown on his back, with his instruments in his hand, to show that which in time of peace is constructed for the use and ornamentation of the City,  is hurled to the ground by the force of arms and falls to ruin.  I believe, if I remember rightly, that you will find on the ground, under the feet of Mars a book and a drawing on paper, to imply that he treads underfoot all the arts and letters. There ought also to be a bundle of darts or arrows, with the band which held them together undone; these when bound form the symbol of Concord.  Beside them is the caduceus and an olive branch, attribute of Peace; these are also cast aside.  That grief-stricken woman clothed in black, with torn veil, robbed of all her jewels and other ornaments, is the unfortunate Europe who, for so many years now, has suffered plunder, outrage, and misery, which are so injurious to everyone that it is unnecessary to go into detail.  Europe’s attribute is the globe, borne by a small angel or  genius, and surmounted by the cross, to symbolize the Christian world.”

THE PROBLEM WITH MULTICULTURALISM

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At a security conference in Germany, the former British Prime Minister, David Cameron, condemned multiculturalism as a failure. He stated: “we need less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism.” In a similar statement, the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, also condemned the doctrine of multiculturalism. Sarkozy told the French people: “we have been too concerned about the identity of the person who was arriving and not enough about the identity of the country that was receiving him.” In recent years, the Western nations that have preached multiculturalism and diversity as bastions of peace, tolerance, and diversity – Great Britain, France, Germany, the United States – have been the primary targets of radical Islamic terrorism.

Progressives like to believe multiculturalism and diversity create harmonious and peaceful societies. When, in reality, it creates division. Telling newcomers that they do not have to assimilate into their adopted culture fosters tribalism: Irish form communities with fellow Irish, Muslims form communities with fellow Muslims, Japanese form communities with fellow Japanese, and so forth. As these cultures, especially those lacking the fundamental roots and beliefs of their adopted countries, compete for supremacy, they inevitably conflict with one another. So, whilst Germanic and French cultures may be able to live harmoniously thanks to their shared Christian heritage, the same cultures would not fare as well if they were expected to co-exist with a culture whose central tenants are profoundly different.

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Why am I harping on about the inherent faults in multiculturalism and diversity? It is because I believe we have created the greatest culture mankind has ever seen: a culture that has produced Shakespeare, Mozart, Voltaire, Plato, Aristotle, John Locke, freedom and democracy, the television, the I-Phone, the movies, free market capitalism, Van Gogh, Da Vinci, Einstein, Newton, Mary Shelley, the Bronte sisters, and more. And I believe it is a culture worth protecting. And how do we protect it? We start by protecting the very things that have made the West so great in the first place: Christianity, an adherence to truth and a deep esteem towards the logos, the supremacy placed on individual rights and liberties, the free-market place of ideas and commerce, Small Governments, and political freedom.

Moral and cultural relativism is being used to tear down and replace the existing social order. When the Mayor of London, Shadiq Khan, is able to state “terror attacks are part and parcel of living in a big city” and young German women are able to hold signs proudly proclaiming “will trade racists for rapists” unopposed, it is clearly time for certain ideas to go away.

THE DEATH OF GOD

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This week for our theological article, we will be examining Friedrich Nietzsche’s (1844 – 1900) infamous statement, “God is dead.”

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (pronounced ‘knee-cha’) was born in Röcken, near Leipzig, on October 15th, 1944. His father, Karl Ludwig Nietzsche (1813 – 1849), was a Lutheran pastor and former teacher, and his mother was Franziska Oehler (1826 – 1897). The Nietzsche family quickly grew to include a daughter, Elisabeth (1846 – 1935), and another son, Ludwig Joseph (1848 – 1850). Unfortunately, the family would be beset by tragedy. In 1849, when Nietzsche was five-years-old, Karl Nietzsche would suffer a devastating brain haemorrhage and die. Then, as if to rub in salt in their wounds, the infant Ludwig Joseph, would die unexpectedly shortly after.

Nietzsche was educated at the prestigious Schulpforta school near Naumburg. There he received an education in theology, classical languages, and the humanities. After graduating, young Nietzsche attended the University of Bonn before moving to the University of Leipzig. During his time there, Nietzsche became acquainted with the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 – 1860) whose work, the World as Will and Representation (1818), would have a tremendous influence. Then, aged only twenty-four, Nietzsche was awarded the position of professor of Greek language and Literature at the University of Basel in Switzerland. He had never written a doctoral dissertation.

Nietzsche left academia briefly to serve as a medical orderly in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871). He was discharged due to poor health. Nietzsche returned to Basel where he came acquainted with the cultural historian, Jacob Burckhardt (1818 – 1897), and the composer, Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883). Wagner’s influence on Nietzsche can most readily be seen in the Birth of Tragedy.

During the late 1870s, Nietzsche became increasingly beset with debilitating health problems: digestive problems, poor eyesight, and migraines. He was forced to spend months off work, and eventually agreed to retire with a modest pension. Nietzsche was only thirty-four years old.

From there, Nietzsche devoted the rest of his life to the study and writing of philosophy. Between 1870 and 1889, Nietzsche wrote nineteen books, including: The Birth of Tragedy (1872), Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks (1873), Human, All Too Human (1878), the Gay Science (1882), Thus Spake Zarathustra (1883), Beyond Good and Evil (1886), On the Genealogy of Morals (1887), Twilight of the Idols (1888), Ecce Homo (1888), and the Will to Power (1901, technically unpublished manuscripts published by his sister, Elisabeth).

In 1889, in Turin Italy, Nietzsche suffered a mental breakdown after seeing a horse being flogged in the Piazza Carlo Alberto. In the following days, Nietzsche sent a series of ‘madness letters’ to Cosimo Wagner (1837 – 1930) and Jacob Burckhardt in which he signed his name ‘Dionysos’, claimed to be ‘the crucified one’, and asserted that he was the creator of the world. It was quickly agreed that Nietzsche should be brought back to Basel. There he was incarcerated in a clinic in Jena.

In 1890, Nietzsche’s mother, Franziska, brought him home to Naumburg where she looked after him until her death in 1897. From there, Nietzsche was cared for by his sister, Elisabeth, in Weimar. He died on August 25th, 1900 at the age of fifty-five.

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The statement, “God is dead” is Nietzsche’s most memorable and provocative statement. (Of course, he wasn’t the first one to coin the term. That was Heinrich Heine (1797 – 1856). Nietzsche merely philosophised it). It first appeared in the Gay Science in a fable entitled, the Parable of the Madman. In the parable, the madman asks, ‘where is God?’, only to be informed that God had been killed by man:

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, murderer of all murderers, console ourselves? That which was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe the blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves?”

Of course, Nietzsche wasn’t talking about the literal death of God (he was, after all, an atheist). Instead, he was referring to the death of the concept or idea of God. The statement was meant as a reference to the decline of traditional and metaphysical doctrines that had dominated European thought and culture for centuries.

Nietzsche observed, correctly, that western morality was predicated on the presumption of the truth of Judeo-Christian values. Christianity had become infused in European culture and thought. Philosophers and scientists like Copernicus (1473 – 1543), René Descartes (1596 – 1650), Isaac Newton (1643 – 1727), Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274), George Berkeley (1685 – 1753), Saint Augustine (354-430AD), Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716), and more were all deeply influenced by their belief in God. Culturally, Handel’s (1685 – 1759) Messiah, Da Vinci’s (1452 – 1519) the Last Supper, and Michelangelo’s (1475 – 1564) Statue of David are all infused with religious themes.

The decline of Christianity’s supremacy in society began with the Enlightenment. Science replaced scripture. During this time, the belief in a universe governed by God was replaced by governance through the laws of physics, the divine right to rule was replaced with rule by consent, and morality no longer had to emanate from a loving and omniscient God.

The legacy of the Enlightenment, Nietzsche rightly observed, was that Christianity lost its central place in Western culture. (Of course, it can also be argued that Christianity’s central doctrines and tenets have been so absorbed by society people no longer recognise their influence). Science, replete with its elaborate depictions of physical reality, ultimately replaced religious truth.

Hitler at Dortmund Rally

Nietzsche’s assertion is often seen as a triumphal or victorious statement. However, analysis reveals that Nietzsche did not necessarily see the death of God as a good thing. He recognised that as society moved closer to secularisation, the order and meaning religion gave to society would fall by the wayside. People would no longer base their lives on their religious beliefs, but on other factors. Their lives would not be grounded in anything. As Nietzsche wrote in the Twilight of the Idols:

“When one gives up the Christian faith, one pulls the right to Christian morality out from under one’s feet. This morality is by no means self-evident… Christianity is a system, a whole view of things thought out together. By breaking one main concept out of it, the faith in God, one breaks the whole.”

Nietzsche believed the solution to the problem would be to create our own, individual values. Christian morality (derided by Nietzsche as ‘slave morality’) would be replaced by ‘master morality.’ Human beings would strive to become Übermensches or overmen.

The problem with Nietzsche’s suggestion is that it is virtually impossible to keep society ordered when everyone’s values are different. Furthermore, as Carl Jung (1875 – 1961) points out, it is impossible for us to create our own values. Most of us can’t keep our new year’s resolutions, let alone create a value system that will bring order to society.

Nietzsche, along with Russian novelist, Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821 – 1881), predicted that the 20th Century would be characterised either by apocalyptic nihilism or equally apocalyptic ideological totalitarianism. In the end, the world experienced both. The wake of the Great War (1914 – 1918) saw Europe plagued by communism, fascism, Nazism, and quasi-religious nationalism. In Russia, communism, through which a person’s value was derived from his labour, arose under the Bolsheviks. In Italy, fascism, through which a person’s value was derived from his nationality, arose under Benito Mussolini (1883 – 1945). In Germany, Nazism, through which a person’s value was derived from his race, arose under Adolf Hitler (1889 – 1945). All of these systems attempted to give people’s lives meaning by replacing the state with God.

In the end, the 20th Century would be the deadliest and most destructive in human history. The legacy of two world wars, nuclear weapons, communism, and fascism has been millions of painful and unnecessary deaths. This is what we get when we remove God from society: needless pain and suffering.