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Herodotus and The Fountain of Youth

The Fountain of Youth, From mural at Manta Castle near Saluzzo, Italy

Herodotus introduced the concept of a mythological water source with the power of granting eternal youth

The Fountain of Youth is a mythical spring that is supposed to have the power of prolonging or restoring the youth of those who drink from or bathe in it.

Myths of such a fountain are to be found in various cultures, particularly throughout the Middle East. The first recorded mention of it is from the ancient Greek historian Herodotus (c. 484-435 BCE), who recounted a claim that there was such a fountain in Ethiopia. In the Middle Ages, stories about the Fountain of Youth circulated in the Islamic world and then spread to such European works as The Travels of Sir John Mandeville (c. 1356).

The Fountain of Youth, 1546 painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder

In the sixteenth century, the Spanish historian Peter Martyr d’Anghiera, who wrote early accounts of the European exploration of the New World, reported a native story of a miraculous fountain on an island in the Gulf of Honduras, an inlet of the Caribbean Sea. While the explorer Juan Ponce de Leon was indeed given a charter to discover and settle a legendary island (Beniny or Beimeni), the popular idea that he sought the Fountain of Youth there seems to have been invented by the sixteenth-century historian Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo, who maliciously added that Ponce de Leon hoped to cure his impotence.

However, the story about his search for the Fountain persists as a historical myth. Marcel Proust said in [[Remembrance of Things Past|Proust[Remembrance of Things Past, “The only bath in the Fountain of Youth would be … to possess other eyes.”

Few people take the story of the Fountain of Youth seriously today, but it remains a popular theme in literature and the arts (such as Darren Aronofsky’s film The Fountain, 2006).

It is also inevitable as a metaphor in discussing the modern concerns of prolonging lifespan and reducing the effects of aging.

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Expressionism: An Art Movement

Vincent van Gogh's The Starry Night

Expressionism is an art movement that emphasized the importance of self-expression.

The Dutch Post impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh (1853-90) saw the world differently from most of the Impressionist painters who surrounded him. Instead of capturing the light and colors of the natural landscape as a dispassionate observer, as the Impressionists had done, van Gogh looked inside his troubled psyche and discovered a new style of self-expression. Van Gogh’s art provided a mirror for his angst-ridden soul and, years later, it would lead to the formalization of an entirely new kind of painting.

Van Gogh once wrote in a letter to his brother, Theo, “Instead of trying to reproduce exactly what I see before my eyes, I use color more arbitrarily to express myself forcibly.” Van Gogh’s The Starry Night (1889) depicts the view from his sanatorium window at night, but its swirling sky and luminous stars are no faithful representation of what he saw; exaggerated and distorted, they suggest his inner reality. The Starry Night is now seen as a pivotal painting in the march toward Expressionism.

The Scream (1893) by Norwegian painter Edvard Munch Four years later came The Scream (1893) by Norwegian painter Edvard Munch (1863-1944), another icon of Expressionism. The painting depicted Munch himself, pausing while crossing a bridge and crying out in desperation from the blur of his anxiety informed world. Edvard Munch once said, “My art is self-confession. Through it, I seek to clarify my relationship to the world”

Like The Starry Night, Munch’s painting has the ingredients of Expressionism—the use of strong, nonnaturalistic colors and distorted lines—many years before the Expressionist movement had its “official” beginnings with the German artistic group Die Brucke (The Bridge), who met together for the first time in Dresden in 1905.

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“La Justice” by French Painter Bernard d’Agesci

La justice by Bernard d'Agesci, Musee Bernard d'Agesci (Museum Niort)

“La justice” is a painting by Musee Bernard d’Agesci (Museum Niort) by 18th Century French painter Bernard d’Agesci.

Bernard d’Agesci’s “La justice” depicts a female that holds scales in one hand and a book in another. One page of the book reads “Dieu, la Loi, et le Roi” (“God, the law, and the king” in Latin) and the other page contains the Golden Rule.

Originally Jean-Charles-Henri-Auguste Bernard, Bernard d’Agesci painted religious and mythological subjects and portraits in Neoclassical style. Bernard d’Agesci commemorated in the Musee Bernard d’Agesci in Niort in Western France, the town of his birth.

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