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Commander and Chief
When George Washington was sworn in as the first President of the United States in 1789, he initially used the name, "His High Mightiness, the President of the United States and Protector of their Liberties." Critics charged that it smacked of monarchy and Washington consented that the title be altered to "Mr. President."
Posted May 29, 2014
By Tony Dingman, Historical Interpreter
Anthony Van Dyke. I’m sure you’ve heard of him, and naturally you know his work: well-named paintings such as Lady Elizabeth Thimbelby and her Sister or Lord John Stuart and his Brother, Lord Bernard Stuart.
No? How about The Balbi Children?
Still no? Then it’s more likely that you remember him because of his facial hair – and that of the subjects of his portraits.
I give you Exhibit A: Charles I, King of England.
If the KING is sporting the chin beard and moustache, you know everyone else will want to as well, right? One of the interesting things about this portrait is that it is in triplicate. This is an unusual choice and there aren’t many examples like it, but Van Dyck was likely influenced by Lorenzo Lotto’s Portrait of a Goldsmith in Three Positions, created some hundred years earlier.
Van Dyck’s portrait in turn may have influenced Philippe de Champaigne’s Triple Portrait of Cardinal Richelieu. Apparently there is an inscription over the bust on the right that states, “this is the better one”, denoting his GOOD side. As you can see, there is that sign of the times on Richelieu’s face – the Van Dyke.
And now on mine…
Next time… ‘stache only.
Posted February 21, 2014
By: Tony Dingman, Historic Interpreter
The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicholaes Tulp (1632) was one of Rembrandt’s first portraits. As you can see below, the viewer’s eye is clearly meant to follow the gaze of the men onto Dr. Tulp and the corpse. The man in the back holding the paper is Hartman Hartmanzoon (yes, really). The man under the knife is an ex-criminal ( “ex” - because he’s dead on the table) named Adriaen het Kint. At this time the bodies used for public autopsies were often those of criminals.
This particular painting is also a great example of 17th century facial hair, as each of these gentlemen have varying degrees of beard or goatee. My take is also below.
Frans Hals was one of the more famous painters from Harlaam, Netherlands in the 17th Century. The image below is actually a close-up of a larger painting called Banquet of the Officers of the Cavaliermen Civic Guard. The Civic Guard commissioned lots of portraits and Frans Hals was a natural choice. This guy has got an excellent goatee and moustache – certainly better than mine.
Next… the pogonotomy continues with the “Van Dyke”. Stay tuned!
Posted February 18, 2014
By: Em Eskridge
The history of art is riddled with peculiar partnerships. Take the curious case of the French Emperor Napoléon Bonaparte and master painter Jacques Louis David. Despite having radically different political backgrounds and beliefs, the two collaborated to create some of the most powerful propaganda the world had ever seen.
Napoléon first met David in 1797 when he was still General Bonaparte. However, they already shared a hidden connection; while David was on the Committee for Public Safety during the infamous Reign of Terror he signed the death warrant for Alexandre de Beauharnais, whose widow Josephine would later become Empress Josephine Bonaparte. Napoléon so respected David’s artistic talent that he agreed to sit for a portrait that same year, a rare occurrence throughout his life. Considering the timing (France was still recovering from the collapse of David’s beloved Republic), it is intriguing that David would want to be associated with Napoléon at all. We do know that David, a neoclassical artist, was attracted to Napoléon’s pseudo-classical persona and charisma. In fact, at their first meeting David declared: “This is a man to whom one would have raised altars in Antiquity, yes, my friends…Bonaparte is my hero!”
David’s gift for propaganda and Napoléon’s eye for a well-placed image marry beautifully in “Bonaparte Crossing the Alps”, a draft of which is now on display in the Frazier’s Eye of Napoléon temporary exhibition. Originally commissioned in 1800 by Joseph Bonaparte, the King of Spain, “Bonaparte Crossing the Alps” was meant to celebrate Napoléon’s 1799 defeat over the Austrians in Italy. Virtually every element of this painting is an embellishment in one way or another.
For starters, Napoléon actually crossed the Alps on a mule. The Emperor was not a talented rider and would have hardly been able to handle a show pony, much less the Arabian Stallion depicted. And while he may have worn a uniform similar to the one in the painting, he would have likely also worn an unflattering winter coat rather than the great red cloak which features so prominently. But this cloak, which billows up behind him, allows Napoléon to take up an even great portion of the canvas, adding to his grandeur without ruining the proportions of the composition. In the background the Tricolour (French Flag) flies majestically as the men follow their fearless leader through the difficult terrain. In the foreground the names “Bonaparte,” “Hannibal” and “Karolus Magnus” are inscribed in the rock. This was done to align Napoléon to Hannibal, the great military strategist and first general to cross the Alps, as well as Charlemagne (Latin: Karolus Magnus), the “Father of Europe”.
Even the landscape mimics Napoleon’s posture, in attempt to show that the earth itself bows to Napoléon’s greatness. Everything from the minuscule brush strokes to the way the light hits the General’s face was planned and executed to perfection. This is an especially impressive when one considers that the only real instruction David got from Napoléon was the Emperor’s request that he would like a portrait of himself looking “calm on fiery steed.” Outside of that, Napoléon was famously unhelpful, refusing to even sit for a sketch. Forced to improvise, David instead used one of Napoléon’s old uniforms and had his son model for him sitting on a ladder; this explains Napoléon’s youthful body type in the painting.
When Napoléon saw the finished composition, he was so taken with it that he ordered four copies to be made. The original was kept in the Royal Palace in Madrid, one was sent to Milan, two more were installed in Paris, and the final copy was kept by David until his death. There is no doubt that “Bonaparte Crossing the Alps” is one of the best displays of propaganda from the Napoleonic Era. However, important questions still linger: Why did David devote his considerable energy and talent to promoting hero-worship of Napoléon after working so hard in his earlier days to undermining absolute monarchs? Why did Napoléon put so much trust in a man whose political convictions could be so contrary to his own?
The Eye of Napoléon temporary exhibition runs at the Frazier History Museum through March 2, 2014.
(Thank you to Jessica Cresseveur for her contributions to this article.)
Posted February 10, 2014
Last week, Frazier History Museum staff member Wesley Spencer and Andy Kelley visited Old Fort Harrod State Park in Harrodsburg, Kentucky to continue their work on the upcoming special exhibition Kentucky by Design.
Old Fort Harrod was the first permanent American settlement in the state of Kentucky and today it houses a variety of historic artifacts. Wesley and Andy joined professional photographer Bob Hower in the Mansion Museum’s dining room to capture some images for the Frazier’s exhibition.
A wooden foot warmer built around 1790 is the subject of the photo below.
Kentucky by Design is an original temporary exhibition slated to debut at the Frazier in 2015. It will be the first project of its kind to focus specifically on the Kentuckian items included in the Index of American Design. The Index, which consisted of over 18,000 watercolor renderings of American decorative arts, was one of the most ambitious public works projects of the late 1930′s and early 40′s. To read more about the Index of American Design, visit the National Gallery of Art’s website here.
Stay tuned for more behind-the-scenes glimpses of the making of Kentucky by Design.
Posted February 7, 2014
Last week, the Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame visited the Frazier History Museum to announce its Class of 2014 Hall of Fame inductees. The elite club’s newest additions are Elvis Dumervil, Mark Clayton, Larry Seiple, Sherman Lewis, and Centre College.
This event is a precursor to the Frazier’s upcoming blockbuster exhibit: Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. This 500 square foot interactive exhibit includes new material from NFL Films, immersive fan experiences, and a specially-designed “Hometown Tribute” section to spotlight the local football lore. Click here to read more.
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