Thursday, March 29, 2007
Last week's alluring appellation was "trophy." While researching the William Jenkins Worth Monument for an Amazon Short, I was reminded that "trophy" is the term for the assortment of weapons and flags on the Worth Monument. But where did the word come from? Why did it apply to weapons as well as to young and beautiful "trophy wives"?I spent several thoroughly enjoyable hours flipping through printed texts such as an 1897 handbook of classical antiquities, and digging up sound Internet resources - the sort that don't seem to have been written off the cuff at 2 a.m. and uploaded without editing. Now, to my immense satisfaction, I can tell you what the Worth Monument and Melania Trump have in common.
The essay on trophies is on the Forgotten Delights site, since formatting so many captioned illustrations in a blog seemed just too exhausting, after all that research.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Friday, March 16, 2007
Sorting through my notes on Daniel Chester French's Continents this past week, I found a massive amount of material that I regretted having to leave out of the book - mostly early descriptions and speculation about the meaning of the sculptures. That material is now available on the Forgotten Delights site, along with a dozen or so photos of details of the sculptures that simply wouldn't fit in Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan.
The passages that most involved me all have to do with handling criticism. Here they are.
Daniel Chester French to his wife, explaining how he deals with committees: “But they don’t know what they like,” commented Dan. “Very few people do. They have to be educated up to it. When they’ve studied a little and seen a good deal, and listened and thought, then they may achieve a considered opinion, but certainly not before. … I never talk them down,” said Dan. “I know enough not to try. I simply suggest to them a better solution of their problem, and they usually have the wit to see it.” (from French's bio by his daughter, Margaret French Cresson)
From the New York Times, 1/14/1906; the reporter is responding to a criticism of the United States Customs House that appeared in a Boston paper. "It is frequently difficult to translate Bostonese. From the above one gathers that there is a transcendental something the matter with the new Custom House, although the building is at the same time thoroughly admirable and symmetrical - a consolatory kind of criticism that leaves one in a good humor and at the same time in a state of perplexity, 'restless,' as the building itself is said to be by this profound critic." ["A consolatory kind of criticism": I wish I'd thought of that phrase!]
And finally, a quote from Abraham Lincoln that was read by President Harding at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial, whose seated Lincoln was the work of Daniel Chester French: "If I were trying to read, much less answer, all the attacks made on me, this shop might as well be closed for any other business. I do the best I know how, the very best I can; and I mean to keep on doing it to the end. If the end brings me out all right, that which is said against me will not amount to anything. If the end brings me out all wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference."
Friday, March 9, 2007
A. Zeus, Athena, Hermes B. Hercules, Hermes, Athena C. Poseidon, Hermes, Venus D. Hercules, Hermes, Hera11. Which sculpture was picketed on the grounds that it looked like Benito Mussolini?
A. Prometheus B. Edwin Booth C. Fiorello La Guardia D. Atlas12. Which equestrian statue in Manhattan shows a rider in civilian clothes?
A. Jose Marti B. El Cid Campeador C. Washington at Union Square D. Joan of Arc13. When did Shakespeare become high-brow entertainment in America?
A. Around the time of the Revolutionary War B. Around the time of the Civil War C. Around the time of the Spanish-American War D. Around the time of World War II14. Which two figures are among the four figures represented on the base of the Verdi Monument?
A. Leonora and Falstaff B. Aida and Violetta C. Leonora and Macbeth D. Rigoletto and Otello15. Which of the following is one of the four figures that appear above Theodore Roosevelt on the east façade of the American Museum of Natural History?
A. Zebulon Pike B. Sacajawea C. Daniel Boone D. Henry Hudson16. Which Danish sculptor has a self-portrait in Central Park?
A. Karl Bitter B. Albert Bertel Thorvaldsen C. Wilhelm Freddie D. Claes Oldenburg17. In what Manhattan park is there a statue of a bear attacking a faun who cowers in a grotto?
A. Morningside Park B. Central Park C. Riverside Park D. Inwood Hill Park18. Who among the following has the most separate portrait sculptures outdoors in Manhattan?
A. Thomas Jefferson B. Alexander Hamilton C. Abraham Lincoln D. Christopher ColumbusClick here for answers to the quiz, here for questions 1-9.
A. Straus Memorial B. Stead Memorial C. Brisbane Memorial D. Titanic Memorial Lighthouse2. Which of the following four are represented in Daniel Chester French's sculptures in front of the Customs House at Bowling Green?
A. Africa, America, Australia, Asia B. Africa, Europe, Asia, Antarctica C. Africa, Asia, Europe, England D. Africa, Asia, Europe, America3. Which explorer was being honored city-wide in 1909, the year the Battery Park memorial to Giovanni da Verrazzano was dedicated?
A. Jacques Cartier B. Christopher Columbus C. John Cabot D. Henry Hudson4. What allegorical figure stands at the center of the New York Stock Exchange pediment?
A. Integrity B. Justice C. Truth D. Wealth5. Who used "The Sidewalks of New York" as a campaign song?
A. John F. Kennedy B. Theodore Roosevelt C. Alfred E. Smith D. Fiorello La Guardia6. Who invented flavored gelatin (Jell-o)?
A. Peter Cooper B. Pietro Delmonico C. Abram S. Hewitt D. Thomas Nast7. Name the noted New York politician who died of an illness brought on by the Blizzard of 1888, and was eulogized for his "eloquence and learning, his undaunted devotion to truth, his purity and courage, his uncompromising patriotism, his scorn of cant and deception" - but also condemned by his biographer as "one of the harshest, strictest, most narrow-minded of all political bosses. Possibly like Pooh Bah he was born sneering."
A. Roscoe Conkling B. Fiorello La Guardia C. Fernando Wood D. Chester A. Arthur8. In "Full speed ahead, and damn the torpedoes!", what were the torpedoes?
A. Artillery shells B. Self-propelled underwater projectiles C. Floating barrels filled with gunpowder D. Pipe bombs9. Who wrote the poem "Thanatopsis," which begins, "To him who, in the love of Nature, holds / Communion with her visible forms, she speaks / A various language"?
A. William Wadsworth Longfellow B. William Blake C. William Cullen Bryant D. William Shakespeare
Friday, March 2, 2007
... Reflecting Absence's main elements are two large reflecting pools, a couple dozen trees, and lists of victims' names. Landscape architecture such as trees and pools can create beautiful vistas, but it conveys no message about those who died on 9-11.
A list of names is also by its nature limited. Proper names are neither meaningful nor evocative for those who know nothing about the lives and characters of the people named. Broadcast the name "Derek Jeter" in Yankee Stadium and you'll get shouts of approving recognition. Broadcast it in the capital city of Kazakhstan and you'll get perplexed silence.
Representational art, on the other hand, is a universal language. If the actions and characters of human figures are competently portrayed, such art has an emotional impact that transcends space and time. Think of Leonardo's Mona Lisa or Munch's The Scream. Their impact remains strong despite the fact that both were produced by men who didn't speak English or know what a USB port is. Nearer to home, think of the Firemen's Memorial on Riverside Drive. Although the firefighting equipment and the costumes in the central relief are long out-dated, we can immediately grasp the message: the urgency and danger of firefighters' work.
If you doubt the efficacy of representational art as opposed to proper names and landscape architecture, take someone who's unfamiliar with New York memorials to see the Firemen's Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the New York Police Department Memorial. ...
Reflecting Absence isn't offensive - but why should we settle for a multi-million-dollar placeholder when we could have an expressive representational work of art?
What should the expressive artwork express? ...
The full essay on the Forgotten Delights site includes contact info for those concerned with the memorial, directions to the sculptures mentioned, and related readings.
Thursday, March 1, 2007
Italians and Russian Jews were the largest groups in the wave of immigration from 1880 to 1919. To the Italians' pride in their birthplace and in their new city we owe the Columbus at Columbus Circle, Garibaldi in Washington Square, Mazzini in Central Park, Dante near Lincoln Center, and the Verdi Monument at Broadway and 72nd St. (Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan Essay 41)
I love the bluntness of Deputy Mayor Curran's comments on the Henry Hudson sculpture, in progress in 1909 but delayed for years after the premature death of sculptor Karl Bitter, creator of the Carl Schurz Memorial (Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan Essay 51). Curran said, at about the time the sculpture was dedicated:
I took a good look yesterday at the statue of Henry Hudson at Spuyten Duyvil ... It is the ugliest statue in New York, and that is saying a whole lot. The shaft is ugly, the figure is ugly, the whole thing is ugly. A barber pole would be nicer. Now just forget your idea of lighting it up at night. If you could dig a hole at Spuyten Duyvil and let the statue drop into it some night, and then cover it nicely, that would be the best way to handle it. (Quoted by Jewell in the New York Times, 8/21/1938)
Click here for more bibliography on the Verrazzano.
The discusson questions for Verrazzano are on allegorical sculptures and on European explorers and colonization of the Americas.