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Archive for July, 2011

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Sir David Wilkie: Artist

Posted in Art, Artist on Saturday, 30 July 2011

Sir David Wilkie was a Scottish painter noted for his pictures of humble life and of Royalty.

picture, Sir David Wilkie, painter, artist, First Ear-Ring

The First Ear-Ring, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1835, painted by David Wilkie

David Wilkie was the son of the parish minister of Cults in Fife. He developed a love for art at an early age and, in 1799, after being educated at schools in Pitlessie, Kettle and Cupar, his father reluctantly agreed to his becoming a painter. Wilie was admitted to the Trustees’ Academy in Edinburgh where he studied under John Graham.

A diligent student with a fascination for sketching local life, his first major work was Pitlessie Fair, which included about 140 figures, many of them based on family and neighbours. He found regular work painting portraits in Cults before leaving for London, where he attended the Royal Academy Schools. He first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1806.

He was soon rewarded for his work, earning commissions from the Prince Regent and the King of Bavaria amongst others, and was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1809 and a full member in 1811.

In 1823, Wilkie was appointed Royal Limner for Scotland, a position which involved painting and sketching the King – George IV – and royal household; he held this position until his death, taking several years to complete his first commission, The Reception of the King at the Entrance of Holyrood Palace.

Seeking relief from the pressures of work, Wilkie travelled on the continent in 1825-28. These travels had a great influence on his later works and his interest in painting historical rather than contemporary scenes, although he continued to produce a great many portraits and commissions from royals. He was knighted in 1836.

In 1840, Wilkie travelled to the East and spent five weeks in Jerusalem. He fell ill on his return journey and died on board a ship off the coast of Gibraltar on 1 June 1841, his body consigned to the sea in the Bay of Gibraltar.

Many more pictures by Sir David Wilkie can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.

The Deposition of Christ

Posted in Bible, Religion on Friday, 29 July 2011

After the Crucifixion Joseph of Arimathaea, who was an “honourable counseller”, hastens to Pilate’s residence in Jerusalem and asks the Roman Prefect for the body of Jesus.

Deposition, picture, image, illustration

The Deposition of Christ

Pilate is taken aback by the request, largely it seems because he is surprised that Jesus is already dead. Indeed, he asks the Centurion who was there whether Jesus has been dead a while, and once the soldier has confirmed this, he gives permission for this respected citizen, Joseph, to have the body. The people who help Joseph and Nicodemus in the deposition vary in pictorial representations, and are not specified in any Gospel beyond the mention of those present at the hour of Christ’s death, among whom most notably are the grief-stricken Mary, often being comforted by St John the Evangelist, and Mary Magdalen.

Many more pictures relating to the Bible can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.

Edward Gibbon

Posted in Ancient History, English Literature, Historical articles, History on Friday, 29 July 2011

Edward Gibbon (1737 – 1794) was one of the greatest figures in the English Enlightenment whose life ended in painful isolation despite his enormous fame and exalted reputation.

Gibbon, picture, image, illustration

A silhouette of Edward Gibbon from the 1796 edition of his “Works”

His mother was oddly disdainful of him, and an aunt introduced him to the finer sensibilities and encouraged his love of books, which he considered “the chief glory” of his life. After schooling in Kingston and Westminster he entered Magdalen College, but was disappointed by Oxford, finding greater intellectual stimulation in the bracing air of Lausanne, where he stayed for five years widening his horizons and deepening his learning. His natural appetite for scholarship and solitary endeavour facilitated his development as a thinker and historian, and after confronting the abject failure of his first and only love, he obeyed his disapproving father and spurned the dictates of his heart. Interestingly, he had briefly converted to Catholicism, but returned to the Protestant faith as though waking from a dream. After going on the Grand Tour he found himself sitting in the Capitol in Rome, where the idea of writing about the eternal city came to him midst the romantic beauty of those unique and unforgettable ruins. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire appeared between 1776 and 1778, and was reprinted in many subsequent editions of varying deluxe and cheap appearance. His mastery of narrative and effortless gift of ironic observation lent a measured nobility to his prose style, which was neither pompous nor grandiloquent, but appropriately magisterial, striking a fine balance between atmospheric depiction and exemplary clarity of thought and expression. Gibbon lived in fashionable London at a time of tremendous celebrities, and he was an intimate of Dr Johnson’s circle and member of their Literary Club. Sadly, despite his acclaim, life’s disappointments seemed to gather around him in later years, and though the death of one of his oldest friends left him the owner of a fine continental estate, the death of another saw his return to England, after which his own unpleasantly drawn-out demise began, which led to him leading a sad and melancholy existence in his last year, an agonising condition increasing his sense of isolation. After his death his reputation as an historian may have declined, but as a writer he continued to attract passionate admirers, Churchill being probably the most famous.

Many more pictures relating to English literature can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.

The best pictures of the Pilgrim Fathers

Posted in America, Best pictures, History, Ships on Friday, 29 July 2011

The best pictures of the Pilgrim Fathers portray the founding fathers on board ship and arriving in America. The first picture of the Pilgrim Fathers shows them on the deck of the ‘Mayflower’ as land is sighted.

Pilgrim Fathers, picture, image, illustration

The Pilgim Fathers on board the ‘Mayflower’

The second picture of the Pilgrim Fathers shows the first landing party in a rowing boat.

Pilgrim Fathers, picture, image, illustration

A landing party from the ‘Mayflower’ strikes out for shore, by Ron Embleton

The third picture of the Pilgrim Fathers shows the men and women coming ashore and giving thanks to God for their safe journey and arrival in America.

Pilgrim Fathers, picture, image, illustration

The first of the Pilgrim Fathers give thanks as they set foor on American soil

Many more pictures of the Pilgrim Fathers can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.

King Alfred’s Jewel

Posted in Arts and Crafts, Historical articles, Royalty, Ships on Friday, 29 July 2011

This edited article about historic treasures originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 998 published on 25 April 1981.

King Alfred's Jewel, picture, image, illustration

King Alfred’s Jewel, a statue of Alfred and the longship he designed. Pictures by Dan Escott

The jewel illustrated on this page, which bears the Anglo-Saxon inscription, “Alfred had me made”, was found near Athelney Abbey in Somerset, and can be seen in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford.

The Alfred referred to is almost certainly King Alfred the Great who, from 871 to 901, ruled the kingdom of Wessex, which was situated south of the River Thames in England. In 871, the Danes had already overrun the rest of England, and at first Alfred’s army was defeated too, but the Danes were finally driven out of Wessex in 878.

Fourteen years later the invaders appeared once again. But by then Alfred was sufficiently prepared to resist them, with Anglo-Saxons from all over England now recognising him as their leader.

Alfred had managed to develop a system whereby most of his followers were trained to fight. He had also built a fleet of large ships, which would, he hoped, defeat the Danish longships at sea. His third plan of defence was to build many fortresses throughout his lands, each one to protect the country around it.

In spite of all this, it was four years before Alfred’s armies finally drove out the Danes in 896. So soundly did he beat his enemy that, from this time until he died, in 901, Alfred’s kingdom was left in peace.

About a thousand years after his death, a statue of King Alfred was erected in Winchester, where he is thought to have been buried. There is another statue of him at his birthplace, Wantage, in Berkshire.

The underwater workhorses

Posted in Exploration, Science, Sea, Technology on Friday, 29 July 2011

This edited article about submarines originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 998 published on 25 April 1981.

mini-sub, picture, image, illustration

The Vickers mini-sub, an undersea workhorse. Picture by Wilf Hardy

The midget submarine Pisces III was in trouble. She had finished a work session on the sea-bed and was being hauled to the surface when an auxiliary hatch broke open, flooding part of the craft and causing the hoisting cables to snap. Uncontrollably, Pisces III sank 480 metres back to the bottom. She had been engaged in digging a trench and laying a new transatlantic telephone cable, and everything had gone well – until now.

The accident happened on 19th August, 1973, 250 kilometres off the west coast of Ireland. Rapidly the rescue attempt became a desperate race against time. The depth was too great for divers to operate, weather conditions were poor, and most critically, the two men in the vessel had only a few hours’ air supply.

That a successful rescue was made was due to the efforts of two sister-midgets, Pisces II and Pisces V, and a strange-looking, unmanned American salvage vessel known as CURV (Controlled Underwater Recovery Vehicle). It is the deepest underwater rescue in the history of the sea.

In 1966 CURV had been involved in another dramatic incident when an American jet bomber and a tanker aircraft collided in mid-air off the Mediterranean coast of Spain.

The bomber was carrying four unprimed H-bombs, three of which fell on land and were rapidly recovered. Finding the fourth, which fell into the sea, was a more difficult proposition, but was located by an American midget submarine and recovered by CURV.

Since the end of the Second World War, there has been a tremendous increase in the production of submersibles for peaceful purposes. Bathyscaphes – underseas observation chambers which can withstand the immense pressures at great depths – have explored the deepest parts of the ocean. In 1960 the Swiss-built US Navy Trieste, the most famous of these craft, made the record descent to nearly 11,000 metres.

At this time bathyscaphes were limited in performance because they were “dumb”; nautically-speaking they could not power themselves. They had to be suspended from surface vessels, which are subject to all the variations in winds and waves, and these were consequently transmitted to the bathyscaphe. This, together with the “drift” of the suspension cable or cables, could make precise positioning and observation very difficult.

Obviously it was desirable for such submersibles to have their own means of propulsion. Trieste’s successor, Trieste II, can submerge, surface, and manoeuvre over short distances and for short periods of time at depths of up to 3,500 metres.

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The science of the rainbow

Posted in Science on Friday, 29 July 2011

This edited article about the rainbow originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 998 published on 25 April 1981.

Rainbow, picture, image, illustration

A rainbow over the Victoria Falls by A Gigli

If you ran fast and far enough, could you come to the end of a rainbow? The answer is no. Do you know why?

A rainbow is formed when the sun shines on falling rain. The raindrops refract or bend the light, and then reflect it back, making a rainbow. When light is refracted, it is split up into colours. When it is reflected, it is bounced back from a surface in the direction from which it came, in the same way that a mirror bounces back your image.

The English scientist Sir Isaac Newton was the first man to discover that sunlight is really a mixture of coloured light. In air, the colours all travel at nearly 300,000 kilometres (186,00 miles) per second.

In substances such as glass or water, however, the colours travel at different speeds. The substance shows up coloured light by different amounts, and refracts it. Red light is slowed up least when it enters a substance, and violet light most.

A raindrop acts like a glass prism. The light is refracted into its separate colours as it comes into the prism. The colours leave the prism at different points, and make a band of colours. The order of the colours – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet – is the same as in a rainbow.

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The mediaeval relic of San Marino

Posted in Historical articles, Travel on Friday, 29 July 2011

This edited article about San Marino originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 998 published on 25 April 1981.

San Marino, picture, image, illustration

La Rocca, the citadel on the summit of Mount Titano in the Republic of San Marino

Every year crowds of tourists head for what the Italians call the Emilia-Romagna, the area high on their eastern coast where the blue Adriatic Sea borders seemingly endless beaches, and smart hotels gleam white in the sun. Most of the towns and cities in the Emilia-Romagna are strung out along the old Roman road known as the Emilian Way. Few of the motorists who speed along this road stop to consider the fact that only 30 kilometres inland from the busy holiday centre of Rimini is the oldest republic in the world – San Marino.

Strictly speaking, San Marino is not in Emilia-Romagna. In fact, San Marino is not part of Italy at all: it is an independent republic, a fascinating leftover from the Middle Ages that has shown itself almost totally resistant to change. San Marino consists of no more than about 65 square kilometres of mountainous land, and one might imagine that it has managed to stay free only by keeping so quiet that nobody realises it is there. On the contrary, San Marino welcomes visitors, because tourism is one of its few sources of income.

Drive out to San Marino on Route 12 and you will soon find that the road winds upwards, for the little republic is over 700 metres above sea level. San Marino’s capital is, of course, San Marino, a time-mellowed walled town cut deep into the mountainside.

The whole place looks extraordinarily like a film set, an idea that is not all that far from the truth. Over the years a number of American film companies have used San Marino as a setting for spectacular period melodramas. They willingly repaired whatever towers and fortifications happened to be falling down at the time, with the result that the old town now presents an exceptionally well-preserved exterior to the thousands of tourists who visit it every year.

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The enigma of Richard III

Posted in Famous battles, History, Royalty, War on Friday, 29 July 2011

This edited article about Richard III originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 998 published on 25 April 1981.

Bosworth Field, picture, image, illustration

Richard’s crown was found at Bosworth Field and Lord Stanley placed it upon the brow of the new king, Henry VII, by Peter Jackson

Today Henry VII is looked on as the king who brought an end to the Wars of the Roses – but when he came back from exile, he was looked on as a rebel against the established authority of Richard III

“The venomous hunchback gained the throne,” says a famous chronicler, “after a succession of astounding crimes.” The subject of this uncompromising invective was Richard III, King of England, and there is nothing new in it. An evil man, a tyrant and a child-killer – Richard has been called them all. Yet scarcely any evidence exists to support a single one of these allegations.

The worst cross that the memory of King Richard has had to carry is undoubtedly the story that Sir Thomas More wrote about his reign. More, a man of great learning, was widely believed when he said that Richard killed his two little nephews, the princes in the Tower, in order to gain the throne.

When Shakespeare took up More’s story in his play Richard III, painting Richard blacker than black, everybody was ready to hate Richard.

It was not until our own century that scholars began to re-examine the case against Richard. They reasoned that because More and Shakespeare were writing in Tudor times they would be prejudiced: to have spoken well of Richard would have meant speaking ill of the Tudors, who wrested the throne from him. And in 16th-century England it was very dangerous to speak ill of the reigning monarch’s family.

They saw, too, a curious thing. Of all the charges levelled against Richard, the chief one – that of killing the princes in the Tower – was never mentioned by the king who succeeded him, his enemy Henry VII.

Why, they wondered, was that? Was it because Henry, rather than Richard, had something to hide?

Richard, born in October, 1452, was the brother of Edward IV, and was always extremely loyal to that king and his family. One writer of his time says: “He was small, with a short face and unequal shoulders, the right being higher than the left.” Another says: “He was tall, lean . . . and with delicate arms and legs.” It has always been hard to get at the truth wherever Richard is concerned.

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The age of chivalry was doomed

Posted in Historical articles, History, War, Weapons on Friday, 29 July 2011

This edited article about chivalry originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 998 published on 25 April 1981.

Jousting, picture, image, illustration

Jousting knights at a tournament by Peter Jackson

For some 300 years Europe, especially Western Europe, was dominated not just by kings and princes and leading nobles, but by an international brotherhood of knights. Their lives and their attitudes are summed up in the word “chivalry” (in French, chevalerie, from chevalier, meaning “knight” or “horseman”). Films, television, books and paintings have kept the word alive. They depict knights in armour fighting fierce hand-to-hand battles on horseback and on foot; charging down on each other at tournaments; rescuing ladies in distress; penning courtly odes of love to ladies or singing them songs; helping the poor and oppressed; being always courteous, and being at all times perfect knights. But just how chivalrous were these knights? What is the truth behind the glamour?

The age of chivalry began in the 12th and 13th centuries, when knights from all over Europe headed east to rescue Christian shrines from the Moslem “infidels”. It was a noble ideal, but all too often chivalrous ideals gave way to greed, selfish rivalries and barbarism that matched or outstripped those of the “heathen” enemy. However, encouraged by the Church, the nobles had accepted the idea of chivalry as a code of conduct, even if few managed to keep to it.

It crossed national boundaries. The code’s key factor was allegiance to one’s king and lord. Even treachery – in capturing a city, for instance – was allowed provided no oath was broken in the process. And, unlike the common soldier, who had few or no rights, a captured noble could expect to be comfortably imprisoned while a ransom was raised for him. Money was part of the background of chivalry.

Despite all this, chivalry seems romantic enough from a distance. Yet, basically, it was a way of controlling fighting, not stopping it. Fighting was the chief sport of the nobility, so chivalry could hardly be expected to alter that. As the Middle Ages continued, chivalry became more and more criticised by ordinary people. Taxed to the hilt to pay for wars, murdered by marauding gangs, despised by most of the nobles, they led lives that were often wretched.

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