What Makes The Night Watch Rembrandt’s Masterpiece

When you think of Rembrandt, do you think first of The Philosopher in Meditation? Or The Syndics of the Drapers’ Guild? How about Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp? Those paintings may well come to mind, and others besides, but only one demands a great effort indeed not to think of: Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq, better known as The Night Watch. Famous for the enormous dimensions that make its figures nearly life-size, and make the painting a showcase for the artist’s mastery of shadow and light more fully than any other, it stands not just for Rembrandt’s body of work but for the 17th century’s Dutch Golden Age of painting as well.

But what, exactly, makes The Night Watch Rembrandt’s masterpiece? Walter Benjamin once said that every great work either dissolves a genre or founds a new one, but this painting fits neatly in an established tradition: the civic guard portrait, civic guards being the groups of wealthy citizens who pledged to defend a city should it come under threat. As Dutch painting moved away from religious subject matter toward commissioned portraiture, civic guards made fine clients, possessed as they were of both the desire and budget for large and expensive group scenes. But even within the genre, everyone involved must have suspected that, when Amsterdam mayor Frans Banninck Cocq hired Rembrandt van Rijn to paint him and his civic guard in the late 1630s, something impressive would result.

“What hits me right away is the balance that Rembrandt strikes between chaos and unity,” says Evan Puschak, the video essayist known as the Nerdwriter, in his analysis of The Night Watch above. “He clearly wanted to create a canvas with a lot of movement, but the challenge was to make that movement — people lurching in different directions, performing a variety of actions — cohere into a unified whole.” Therein lies the secret to The Night Watch‘s transcendence of its genre, a transcendence achieved through a quality we might now call dynamism. Rembrandt also makes use of visual techniques more closely associated with cinema, such as a “depth of field” achieved by rendering Cocq and his lieutenant with the utmost clarity and gradually reducing that clarity in the figures behind.

As with any masterpiece, the more you look at The Night Watch, the more you notice. You may even start to sense a joke: “The Night Watch is capturing the moments before the company sets out to its collective purpose,” says Puschak, “but the painting almost makes us doubt that they’ll ever get there.” By the time of the painting’s completion in 1642, he notes, civic guards had less to do with actual defense than with ceremony, “and at a certain point these companies became clubs for men to play with their weapons and chip in with fancy group portraits. It’s not inconceivable that Rembrandt may have been secretly making fun of them.” Maybe masterpiece status doesn’t absolutely necessitate creating or destroying a genre. Nor, perhaps, does it absolutely demand a sense of humor, but surely the works that have one, like The Night Watch, stand a better chance of attaining it.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

What Makes <i>The Night Watch</i> Rembrandt’s Masterpiece is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don’t miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.

Europe’s Oldest Intact Book Was Preserved and Found in the Coffin of a Saint

Photo via the British Library

If you’re a British history buff, next month is an ideal time to be in London for the British Library’s “once-in-a-generation exhibition” Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War, opening October 19th and featuring the illuminated Lindisfarne Gospels, Beowulf, Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, the “world-famous” Domesday Book, and Codex Amiatinus, a “giant Northumbrian Bible taken to Italy in 716” and returning to England for the first time in 1300 years. But with all of these manuscript stars stealing the show, one special exhibit might go overlooked, the St. Cuthbert Gospel, the oldest surviving intact European book.

A Latin copy of the Gospel of John, the book was originally called the Stonyhurst Gospel, after its first owner, Stonyhurst College. It acquired its current name because it was found inside the coffin of St. Cuthbert, a hermit monk who died in 687 and whose remains, legend has it, were incorruptible. This supposed miracle inspired a cult that placed offerings around Cuthbert’s tomb. Just when and how the small book made its way into his coffin remains a mystery. It was likely sometime between the 700s and 800s CE, when his body was moved to Durham due to Viking raids.

When Cuthbert’s casket was opened in 1104, the book was found “in miraculously perfect condition,” writes the British Library, inside “a satchel-like container of red leather with a badly-frayed sling made of silken threads.” Scholars have dated the book’s creation to between 700 and 730, and its interest for academics and lay people alike lies not only in the legend of St. Cuthbert but in the book’s physical qualities and its own uncorrupted nature. As Allison Meier writes at JSTOR Daily, “the 1,300-year-old manuscript retains its original pages and binding,” a remarkable fact for a book of its age.

Its condition makes it an “important example of Insular art, which was created on the British Isles and Ireland between 600 and 900 CE.” The general features of this style involve “the layering of pattern, line, and color on seemingly flat surfaces,” notes Oxford Bibliographies, in order to create “complex spatial patterns.” Scholar Robert D. Stevick describes these properties on the ornate dyed leather covers of the St. Cuthbert Gospel:

There is interlace pattern in two panels on the front cover, step-pattern implying two crosses on the lower cover, a prominent double vine scroll at the center of the front cover—elements of this early art that have been well catalogued for their individual features as well as for their affinities to similar decorative elements in other artifacts.

Bound with a sewing technique that originated in North Africa (and therefore often called “Coptic sewing”), the “simple but elegant” book, Meier explains, “reflects the transmission of publishing knowledge across Europe” from the Mediterranean. Its small size and placement in a leather pouch is also significant. St. John’s Gospel “was sometimes employed as a protective talisman,” worn in a pouch on the body to ward off evil. Why one of Cuthbert’s admirers would have given such a talisman to his corpse remains unclear.

If you can’t make it to the British Library to see this fascinating artifact in person, you can see its miraculously well-preserved binding and pages in scans at the British Library site here.

via JSTOR Daily

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How Illuminated Medieval Manuscripts Were Made: A Step-by-Step Look at this Beautiful, Centuries-Old Craft

Wearable Books: In Medieval Times, They Took Old Manuscripts & Turned Them into Clothes

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

What are the different types of dual language programs?

Recent years have witnessed the expansion of so-called “dual language” programs. One of the primary goal of these programs has been to promote equity by providing minoritized communities access to high quality bilingual education. Yet, as these programs have spread the dual language umbrella has become increasingly large with differences between these programs often obscured in ways that might be detrimental to student learning and the promotion of equity.

In this post, I expand the typology of the different program types that currently exist as a way of beginning a conversation about how best to meet the needs of students who enter these different programs and how to ensure that they do not lose focus on the primary goal of promoting equity for minoritized communities.

There are at least four different program types that I have come across:

  1. Two-way programs: These are programs that serve a balance of students from English speaking homes and homes where the minoritized language is spoken. In order for this to be possible the neighborhood where the school is located must have sizeable numbers of students from these different communities that have a strong interest in the program. As a result, these programs are typically found in relatively affluent neighborhoods with a small but sizeable population of speakers of the minoritized language that either reside in the community or are bused in from other communities. As young professionals increasingly decide to remain in urban areas when they have children these programs are also increasingly found in gentrifying neighborhoods with the danger being that the speakers of the minoritized language may be displaced as property values continue to rise. These programs often grapple with issues of power and privilege as communities with different racial and social class positions come together. When the term dual language was first coined this was often the only program type that was being referred to. Indeed, to this day, some people are only referring to this program type when they use the term dual language. At the very least this program type is often seen as the ideal form of dual language education.
  2. One-way programs: The fact that the US is a segregated society means that two-way programs are often not feasible simply because there isn’t a sizeable population of students from English speaking homes interested in participating in these programs. As a result, segregated neighborhoods with a large student population from one minoritized background will sometimes offer one way programs that exclusively serve students who come from homes where this language is used. Historically, these programs have been referred to as maintenance or developmental programs. Increasingly, these have been placed under the umbrella of dual language. While they have the same explicit goal of bilingual and biliteracy development the context where they are working to developing these skills is quite different. Because of the low social status of the students being served by these students, they often grapple with the perception that they are transitional programs or remedial programs. As a result, they sometimes will be branded as two-way in the hopes of exploiting their higher prestige. Yet, this may lead programs to inappropriately try to sort students into L1 English users versus L1 users of the partner language when most, if not all, of the students are simultaneous rather than sequential bilinguals who use both languages on a daily basis both in and out of school.
  3. 5-way programs: These programs exist in similar segregated neighborhoods as one-way programs. The key difference is that while one-way programs are typically found in communities with relatively new immigrant populations, 1.5-way programs are typically found in communities where speakers of the minoritized language have lived for multiple generations. As a result, these programs typically have students with a range of experiences with English and the minoritized language. They struggle with similar challenges as one-way programs in terms of the social status of the students leading to negative perceptions of the programs. Yet, they also struggle with some challenges that confront two-way programs in that their classrooms are typically more linguistically heterogeneous. As with one-way programs they often try to brand themselves as two- way programs and, indeed, better fit the description in that many students are coming in from homes where English is used as the primary language. However, this may lead to students inappropriately being placed into boxes of L1 users of English and L1 users of the minoritized language in ways that erase the dynamic bilingualism of many of the students being served. To date little research has been done on these programs with, to my knowledge, nobody having even proposed a name for them before.
  4. Wrong way programs: These programs are typically founded in affluent predominantly white neighborhoods and typically only serve affluent predominantly white students. The name is only half serious but is meant to illustrate that these programs deviate significantly from the original goals of dual language programs, which was to promote equity for minoritized communities. Whatever good these programs may be doing for their privileged students, they are not promoting equity for minoritized communities. In many ways, they shouldn’t be called dual language programs at all. In fact, historically they have typically been called immersion programs though they have recently been rebranded as dual language programs in many contexts. This is part of a larger gentrification of dual language educationthat is serving to systematically push minoritized students out of these programs while co-opted the equity discourses that have historically been associated with dual language programs.

I’m sure there are other types of dual language programs that already exist and that new types will continue to emerge as these program continue to expand. For example, dual language programs have begun to emerge in predominately African American neighborhoods. This challenges the existing frameworks that presuppose that students from English speaking homes are always coming from privileged racial, linguistic and social class positions and suggests the need for new modifications that meet the particular needs of these students who have often historically been systematically excluded from these programs. It is only by adapting these programs to fit the students being served while ensuring their equitable distributions across different community contexts that these programs will continue to successfully promote equity for minoritized communities.

Hear Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Pioneering Compositions for Music Boxes

We now remember Karlheinz Stockhausen as a pioneer of electronic music, laboring away in studios dominated by hulking early synthesizers and tape machines toward a new sonic experience, but he wrote his most popular work for much humbler devices: music boxes. Composed in 1974 and 1975, Tierkreis, the German word for zodiac, consists of twelve melodies, each representing a sign on that astrological calendar, each centered on a different pitch, each played on its own dedicated music box. You can hear (and see) all of the Tierkreis boxes in action in these videos:

Despite their simplicity, Stockhausen’s twelve- and sometimes fourteen-tone serial compositions may sound like nothing you ever heard come out of a music box in childhood. But children must have made up a significant part of their early audience: these melodies made their debut as part of the fairy-tale music theater piece called Musik im Bauch, or “Music in the Belly,” a phrase Stockhausen used to describe the noises that would issue from the insides of his young daughter Julika, to her great delight. After coming up with the twelve melodies, quite possibly the first music ever originally composed for the music box, he had to order the boxes themselves custom-made from the Swiss manufacturer Reuge. You can see an original Tierkreis box, playing the Aries melody, in the video below.

Reuge, according to Dangerous Minds’ Oliver Hall, “continued to manufacture the zodiac boxes into the eighties. In ‘98, Stockhausen-Verlag produced a limited run for the composer’s 70th birthday, followed by another series in 2005. The Pisces, Aries and Sagittarius boxes are sold out, but the shop still has a few of the others left at €310 a piece.” Pricey, certainly, but what a gift they would make for musically inclined friends born under the other zodiac signs, given that Stockhausen, writes All Music Guide’s Robert Kirzinger, “carefully considered the characteristics of each sign and each month of the year, as well as the personalities of people he knew were born under a particular sign, in composing this work.” Such a compositional scheme may strike astrological non-believers as odd, but remember: this was back in the age of Aquarius.

via Dangerous Minds

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A Karlheinz Stockhausen Branded Car: A Playful Tribute to the Groundbreaking Electronic Composer

Pachelbel’s Music Box Canon

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Hear Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Pioneering Compositions for Music Boxes is a post from: Open Culture. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus, or get our Daily Email. And don’t miss our big collections of Free Online Courses, Free Online Movies, Free eBooksFree Audio Books, Free Foreign Language Lessons, and MOOCs.