Gargoyles, the grotesque statues that decorate medieval cathedrals, and the medieval-influenced architecture of some universities, are not merely decorative. A gargoyle is technically a waterspout that projects from a roof gutter to throw rainwater clear of a building. The term is applied more loosely to any grotesquely carved figure.
Alexander Calder made his first unpowered mobiles in 1934. They were pieces of tin suspended on thin wires or cords, and responding to the faintest air currents. But before then, beginning in 1931, he had made constructions activated by hand or by motor power. These became known as mobiles, while Calder’s non-moving constructions became known […]
Actually, both art and music lay claim to the rake’s progress. The English artist William Hogarth began a series of eight satirical paintings entitled The Rake’s Progress in 1732. Hogarth engraved the series three years later. In the twentieth century, Igor Stravinsky wrote a three-act opera called The Rake’s Progress, his last neoclassical work. Based […]
A prima donna is simply the leading lady of an opera company. A diva, a “goddess,” is a legendary or highly celebrated leading lady.
Botticelli’s real name was Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi (c. 1444-1510). The Florentine painter’s nickname, Botticelli, meant “little barrel” and was presumably a reference to his girth. Sandro Botticelli was an Italian painter of the Florentine school during the Early Renaissance and was famous for the masterworks Primavera (c. 1482) and The Birth of Venus (c. […]
El Greco signed his paintings as Domenikos Theotokopoulos, his real name. The artist (c. 1541-1614) wrote the name in Greek characters, sometimes followed by Kres for “Cretan”, his national origin.
The 12-tone theory is music based on the serial ordering of all 12 pitches on the chromatic scale. the scale that includes both the black and white keys on the piano. (The diatonic scale of seven pitches includes only the white keys.) In the 12-tone system, developed by Austro-Hungarian composer Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) in the […]
The members of the secret brotherhood formed in 1848 exhibited their paintings anonymously with the signature PRB. The founding members were Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, and John Everett Millais, who were rebelling against the unimaginative academic art of their day. Though the PRB (unmasked in 1850) had a profound influence on Western painting, […]
The most famous auto-destructive work of art was probably Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely’s Homage to New York, which blew itself up at the Museum of Modern Art in 1960. The work was meant to satirize modern technological civilization. Constructed of an old piano and other junk, the piece failed to operate as planned and caused […]
The birthplace of much of twentieth-century popular music was Tin Pan Alley. It was where songwriters plied their trade, actually had two locations, both in New York City. The first Tin Pan Alley section sprang up around Fourteenth Street; the second was in the Times Square area.
Arthur de Lulli is named as the writer of the 1877 piano exercise. The name is actually a pseudonym for a sixteen-year-old girl named Euphemia Allen.
Construction of Saint Peter’s Basilica began in 1526 and was completed in 1626. It accommodates 50,000, a little less than Yankee Stadium, which seats 57,545. St. Peter’s Basilica is located within the Vatican City in Rome and has the largest interior of any Christian church in the world.
The baroque style dominated European art in the seventeenth century. To an art historian, it connotes vigorous movement, emotional intensity, and a sense of balance (not art that is excessive and florid, the popular meaning of the word baroque). The rococo style flourished in the eighteenth century, after the baroque period; it is characterized by […]
The name for the artistic movement Dada was founded in Zurich in 1915 as a revolt against complacent art. It is drawn not from an artist or a technique but from the child’s word for a parent, dada, which in French, curiously, also means “hobbyhorse.” Whatever its origin, the name Dada is intended to be […]
In the caves of France, archaeologists have found carved bones that appear to be wind and percussion instruments. These instruments date from about 25,000 to 20,000 B.C.
The modern ballroom tango appeared about 1880 in Argentina. It combined the old tango of Spain, a light-spirited variety of flamenco, with the milonga, a fast, hot Argentine dance. At first considered low-class, the new tango was all the rage in fashionable circles by 1915.
It is a style of landscape painting that flourished in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Picturesque landscapes were somewhere between the beautiful and the sublime, not serene, not awe-inspiring, but irregular, pleasing to the eye, and full of interesting detail. Picturesque painters included the Englishman Thomas Girtin and the Frenchman Gaspard Dughet. The […]
It took Leonardo da Vinci four years (1503-1507) to paint the Mona Lisa. This was long enough for his patron, Francesco del Giocondo, to get impatient. Giocondo had commissioned the portrait of his third wife, Lisa, but enough was enough. Giocondo refused to pay for the unfinished portrait, and Leonardo sold it to the king […]
The formal name of the painting “Whistler’s Mother” is Arrangement in Gray and Black: Portrait of the Painter’s Mother, by James Abbott McNeill Whistler, 1872.
The scene of the newborn Christ, the Virgin Mary, and often shepherds and the Magi is familiar to most of us. The Nativity Scene was first represented in the fourth century, carved on early Christian Roman sarcophagi.
The blue note is a musical note, usually a flatted third or seventh, that gives a blues feeling to a song. The Blue Note is also the name of a popular nightclub in New York’s Greenwich Village.
Art Deco got its name from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris in 1925. It became the dominant style of architecture and interior design in the 1920s and 1930s.
W. S. Gilbert wrote the lyrics and Arthur Sullivan wrote the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.
No, Mount Rushmore is not the largest sculpture in the world. The prize goes to the sculpture of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Thomas (“Stonewall”) Jackson that covers 1.33 acres on the face of Stone Mountain near Atlanta, Georgia. It was created between September 12, 1963, and March 3, 1972.
A bolero is a lively Spanish dance in 3/4 time with a strongly marked rhythm. The dancers perform intricate steps while keeping time with castanets. Maurice Ravel published a well-known orchestral version of the dance, Bolero, in 1928. A bolero is also a short jacket, perhaps first worn during performances of the dance.