The Fighting Temeraire

J.M.W. Turner, The Fighting Temeraire Tugged to Her Last Berth to be Broken Up, 1838

For four years I’ve been waiting, anticipation twice the size of my thanksgiving meal. Arriving a bit later than usual, I’m thankful for the release of the new James Bond movie and that it kicked butt, redeeming Daniel Craig’s last movie, Quantum of Solace. Of course I’m thankful for my family, the house I live in, friends, and such, yet this is James Bond we’re talking about, Ian Fleming's British MI6 total badass secret agent. The sometimes cheesy British spy films have always been a way for my step-father and I to have some quality bonding experiences, having seen all of them with him, some multiple times. It’s November release is perfect for a time of family gathering, almost a pre-Thanksgiving.

Ben Wishaw and Daniel Craig, Skyfall, 2012
In the new movie, Skyfall, James Bond sits besides his new quartermaster, “Q”, in room 34 of the National Gallery in front of Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire Tugged to Her Last Berth to be Broken Up, painted in 1838. Celebrating all that is British awesomeness, this scene symbolically represents the entire theme of the movie, the rise of the new and out with the old. The HMS Temeraire was an old 98-gun War ship. Glorious in comparison to the industrial smog polluting tug boat. The old ship’s beauty represents the glory doing things the old way in Skyfall. The movie itself differs from any other Bond film made. It contained a more complete narrative with just enough events taking place, unlike Quantum of Solace where the amount of setting changes detracted from the overall plot.

Daniel Craig plays an older more out of date Bond in Skyfall, confronted by a new world, a new enemy. In this scene in the museum, Q and Bond mirror each other in their sitting positions, their existence dependent on the each other. An aged James Bond, doing things the old fashion way, his work found behind a Walter PPK, contrasts Q, a young and tech-savvy genius who holds power behind his computer.

I won’t spoil any of the storyline, but the my favorite example of this theme is when Bond and M drive the classic Aston Martin from the early movies, accompanied by the classic instrumental theme song. It was perfect. Through the dialogue, props, and sets, Skyfall exaggerated the overall theme: Daniel Craig’s Bond is experiencing a change, fighting on a new battlefield, filled with hacking and viruses. Confronted with change, he successfully does the job right, using his traditional style of doing things.

  • 7:00 AM

Figures on Beach

Auguste Renoir, Figures on Beach, 1890
Lucky people, like myself, get the opportunity to escape. Runaway from the textbooks, emails, essays, and worksheets. I am truly thankful for the gift of running away. This summer I took a break from work and set my sights on a wonderful surprise vacation to Michigan. There, I was going to stay at my favorite Uncle Sam's at Bear Lake with my cousins. Now, I love my immediate family, don't get me wrong, but going just for me was pretty awesome. I adore my cousins and sometimes I need a little Natalie time, so getting both meant it was a guaranteed blast.

Bear lake has all of the essentials for a great time, and none of the annoying crowds of people to ruin it. The small body of water is man-made, same with most of the 1,200 lakes in Michigan, but this one seemed especially created for my family. The lake has a few rules though: No gas powered water vehicles before 11 a.m. and nothing past 9 p.m., all boats must go in the same direction around the lake, and no more building houses (that last one really doesn't matter much, but it's still a rule). The 11a.m. take off time allowed for some long hours of well deserved sleep, and the boats cruising in the same direction flowed like a carousel rotating to the sound of the waves crashing on the dock.

My personal favorite activity, tubing, became our source of exercise for the day. We managed to break the rope, flip over twice, and give my cousin some serious whiplash. All was in good fun, and worth the soreness that morning brought from our battle scars with the water. The trip itself did its job perfectly, relaxing my mind and giving me time to breathe and take in summer at its best. Bear Lake did one more thing for me though, it made me thankful for my family and for leisure time. I would not be thankful for the gift of running away if it was a normal pass time, but the time I get once a year to throw up my hands say the hell with it all and jump in the water, is well worth it. I am one lucky girl, who has a family willing to drive their boats far over the speed limit for me and my cousin's enjoyment, and for that I am thankful.     

  • 7:00 AM

New York Movie

Edward Hopper, New York Movie, 1939
At first glance, Hopper's piece bespeaks loneliness and seclusion. The doorwoman, excluded from the people and the screen, seems to hide in the back of the theatre. But I choose to view her separation from a different perspective. What if, instead of stuck back there in some sort of banishment, the doorwoman seeks a kind of refuge from the noise, the light, the rustling of popcorn chewers? Rather than exiled to this niche, she chooses this banishment to escape from all the motion of the movie. She simply takes a break from everyone else's life, and uses it to reflect on her own.

These moments are the ones I treasure. Not for the memories they create, but for the relief they give. True, these little breaks won't be things you look back on in your old age, or the stories that you tell your children and grandchildren, but these are what get you through the day. When you can take a step back from the crowd, and appreciate the moment.

  • 7:00 AM

Mother and Child

Mary Cassatt, Mother and Child, 1905

"Mother is the name for god in the lips and hearts of little children." -William Makepeace Thackeray

What is greater than a mother's love for her child? Knowing that no matter what you have done in your life, one person will not judge you but will instead take you in and comfort you until you have ended your last whimper, until you decide to take the next step and to move forward with your life. Not only is a mother there to push you, to show you your potential, to show you what your options are, but she's also  there for you in between your downfalls and your triumphs. She keeps you positive and what let the outside world sap  your spirit when you find something impossible.

Apart from the obvious difficulties of motherhood, beginning a few weeks after conception, a mother changes her life for another person. She changes from size 7 to 17, not only from hormonal changes and cravings, but from stressful junk food binges. Her nights are spent helping with homework before she completes her work. Her days are spent worrying about a helpless being instead of planning a vacation. Even if there was a second to plan this said much-needed vacation, where would the money come from? Here comes school, food, clothes, entertainment, activities, and the list will only go on. 

One woman to appreciate every day of every week is your mother.

  • 7:00 AM

The Thinker

Auguste Rodin, The Thinker, 1902
I first saw this statue in the 6th grade in Chicago, ever since I've kept it in mind.  It was a trip I will always remember to see one of my uncles whom was in bitter health, but the highlight of my trip was seeing this statue in all its glory, shining. The statue would prove to be important as I entered the first day of the sixth grade where Mr. Huntz showed us the image and told us to write about and why it inspires us. The obvious studious pose initially made me interpret it as he was pondering away but I never could determine why. Scholars argue that this represents Dante outside the gates of hell pondering a poem, before he embarks on his journey into the nether.

Rodin's  The Thinker  has inspired me to not allow myself to be limited to perception, but rather interpret and construct new outlooks. The hues in the bronze, always beautiful as it glistened in the sun, serve as a tribute to knowledge.  I am thankful that I saw this that day, it has continued to be a part of my life. I recently saw it again at the Nelson, this embodiment of shining intellect continues to follow me in my path throughout life.

  • 7:00 AM

The Man

Neville Harson, "The Man Burns", 1993
After my first exposure to the festival when I was 10,  I became fascinated with the culture of Burning Man, the language, and the artistic freedom of expression within it. I find each and every piece of art there fantastic, but the piece, the ever-evolving piece that I am continually awed by, is The Man himself.

The Man has such presence in every representation throughout the years of the festival, but this photograph of him appealed to the pyromaniac in me. The flames destroy him, inside and out. And he can be interpreted in so many ways without having to get into an intellectual debate about masochism in plebeian desert art. He's just The Man, the one people set aflame every year to celebrate life, or how finite life is.  And I'm thankful that he can open up such trains of  thought - at least in me.  

Nostalgia seeps in as I write this, and I realize that this festival sparked my passion for art. It helped my little 10-year-old self to understand that art wouldn't always be this carefully directed "expression" led in a smelly classroom by a rather grumpy art teacher throwing pencils at the bad kids. It could be, if I was into that, but it could also evolve. And that is why I find The Man so intriguing. People from all over the world get together to create and destroy him, and he evolves year by year just as art - in all its forms - has for me. He set me aflame, for lack of a better analogy, and for that I am thankful.

  • 7:00 AM

Abbey in the Oak Forest

Caspar David Friedrich, Abbey in the Oak Forest, 1809

Walking into a classroom where posters of the World’s greatest paintings cover every inch of the wall can be intimidating, especially if the teacher notoriously hates freshmen and it is your first day of sophomore year. But two seconds into class, Mr. Luce assures us that his crusade against the freshmen species was merely to amuse older students and faculty... and to instill the fear of God in them.

This was the beginning of my sophomore year at Barstow. This was also the year where I would become someone else. Freshmen year had gone by in the same manner as middle school. I always sat in the corner, did nothing over the weekends, and hid out in the “Bat Cave” (also known to the school as the men’s restroom) during breaks. Hopefully, people can notice a difference in my behavior these days. I will not bore my reader with all that I do or how I found confidence, but I want you all to know high school did not really begin for me until sophomore year when I walked into Mr. Luce’s English class.

Friday afternoons with Mr. Luce were possibly the class’s finest moments. We would walk into class, the last hour of the day and consequently of the week, all tired and anxious for the weekend. When Mr. Luce sensed this, he would lean back in his chair and ask us if we had any questions. “About what?” the class responded. “Anything,” he said. The class then spent fifty-five minutes barraging Mr. Luce with questions about himself. “What was your worst vacation?” “What was your favorite band?” Things of this sort, and he would always turn his answers into little anecdotes about how life should be lived as an individual or about how to be yourself or just about how life can be ironic. These all fit with the issues I was tackling and what all emerging sophomores must wrestle with. At the root of these issues lies the underlying question, “Who am I?”

Writing this now as a senior at Barstow, I can confidently say I recognize myself in Abbey in the Oak Forest by Caspar David Friedrich. Friedrich’s Cloister Ruin at Eldena was the first painting I ever wrote about in Art History class, so it seems fitting Friedrich and his romanticism found me again. Unlike Cloister Ruin, Abbey occurs at sunset. The horizon divides the painting in two; one an unknown blackness and the other a setting sun. The sun is setting over my time at Barstow and in the classroom where hundreds of masterpieces haunt the walls. The trees are dying. The people below are leaving, full of memories of what this crumbling edifice used to be and of the life the trees once fostered.

In my first blog post, I wrote what Cloister Ruin represented in Friedrich’s own life. Now I tell you what Abbey means for me: the waning of an era, an era where I grew and became who I am. Memories of this era will always be in the peripheral regions of my mind, just as the abbey will always stand in the forest. Sometimes I will return to this memory and linger there. As I look back upon it all, I will be thankful for all the opportunities I received at Barstow. I will be grateful for the person I became in those halls. And I will be forever indebted to the teachers who helped me grow and to the students who grew with me.

  • 7:00 AM

Water Lilies

Claude Monet, Water Lilies: Morning, 1914-1926
Kids don’t know anything. They should be seen and not heard. Their opinions matter little in the grand scheme of things. Welcome to My Kid Could Paint That, a place where our opinions get to be seen and heard. A unique space carved out for our thoughts on paintings, buildings, and sculptures and if you don’t like it - well, we frankly don’t give a damn.

As over-exposed and publicized as he is, I cannot help but love Claude Monet. Specifically his water lilies, and in this case his painting Water Lilies: Morning. When I look at the canvas, I imagine being encircled in a room full of nothing but water lilies and the serene purple and blue hues Monet is famous for. Little did I know such a place existed in Musee de l'Orangerie. A museum in Paris dedicated to impressionists and post-impressionists that's located on the West corner of the Tuileries Gardens. Two salons are dedicated specifically to Monet’s Water Lilies and they have collected twenty-two canvases that collectively measure about six and a half feet high and 20 feet long. Monet had always imagined a grand room where his paintings could be seen collectively, and after World War One he donated two paintings to the French State. Musee de l'Orangerie was not a museum at the time, though, it was a green house where citrus plants grew in the winter, hence the name. The collection grew into what it is today, a sanctuary to Monet’s powerfully moving chromatic world.

So while Monet’s Water Lilies may not be a “deep-cut” or an obscure piece that no one knows about, they are one of the things I am thankful for. I am also thankful for a place where I can express my ideas on paintings that have been discussed by world-class historians. I am thankful that I get one day completely devoted to the work I have put into this blog post. I am thankful that you are still reading this in spite of my rather rude introduction. Most of all, I am thankful for the opportunity to know what art is and what is has the possibility to do.

  • 7:00 AM

Untitled No. 11, 1963

Mark Rothko, Untitled No. 11, 1963, 1963

Every once in a while, I get a strange urge to visit an old friend. A compulsion, really. Emotion drives me up Ward Parkway and down Oak Street. After climbing up what seems like a ridiculous amount of stairs - I really shouldn't be this winded - I enter into the calming interior of my home-away-from-home, the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art. I warm up with some Kline and Giacometti before sidling up to the gaping black hole in the room - the Rothko.

It's the only work that has a perimeter set up around it. And what a frustrating perimeter it is. Allowing you close enough to start to experience the painting properly, but far away enough to leave a strip of white wall in the periphery of your vision. My OCD cringes at the awkward border. But soon, the rest of the room ceases to exist as I'm sucked into the vortex that is Untitled No. 11, 1963.

Dread roils in my stomach. Every sharp word, emotion, or look resurfaces. Self-doubt, self-loathing, loneliness, futility, fear, wash over me. All that I keep bottled up inside pours out of me into the canvas. It swells with my emotion, pregnant with my deepest fears. The shapes swim before me. Darker tones turn light. The middle swath throbs, floating closer and farther away. The bottom third recedes backwards into the middle third while the top section melts down. The painting comes to life. Suddenly, the darkness and gloominess of the colors brighten. As my pupils widen, the contrast lessens, and details like the few drips of darker paint on the lighter bottom section surface. Breathing comes easier. Those dark emotions leave as fast as they arrive, and I'm left both wiping away tears and laughing softly in front of my Rothko.

I look like a fool, smiling like a maniac, chest heaving with the rush of emotion. Whenever I stand in front of that Rothko, I feel like I've been given the secret to understanding art - that one piece of information that I have been missing all my life. Every time I visit, I give a small part of myself to Untitled No. 11.  Rothko reminds me that the best way to overcome an emotion is to experience it. For that, I am thankful.

  • 7:00 AM

The Process of Dance(s) (The Invitation)

Fragonard, The Progress of Love (The Pursuit), 1771
The dance is almost here and there's no time to dilly-Dali, so I guess it's time to step up and be a Manet? I spent a good long while trying to come up with the Wright way to ask you to the dance because it's Fragonard to come up with something creative, and all too easy to Bosch the job. So I hope I've proven myself to be "Duchamp of Invitations," and that you'll accept my humble pe-Titian. 

Gabbi Fenaroli,  would you make this Cézanne truly jolly 
van Gogh with me to Winter Formal?

  • 1:32 PM

Jalais Hill, Pontoise

Camille Pissarro, Jalais Hill, Pontoise, 1868

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for relaxation. I haven’t always liked peace. When I was a little kid scurrying around with my friends, I was a force for chaos. I could not understand how the adults around me seemed to strive for order. Even less than a year ago, I took little time for myself. I constantly threw myself at my work. When I didn’t have any work to do, I found new activities, so I could create new problems. In some ways, this attitude has worked nicely for me. Working on school and the like brings with it some rewards, and I also have an intrinsic desire to do well. However, I recently came to realize that I am, perhaps, missing the forest for the trees.

I am a little scared of this because I have so much that I must do to keep my head above water, with school, sports, and everything else. I still think I am making a good choice in backing off at least in some measure. I think that I need to lighten up and relax. Maybe I should give myself more time to do things I want to do instead of allowing schoolwork to voraciously consume my life. Obviously, I am unsure of what I will do—I’m just beginning. All I know is that I will make some sort of change. I am happy I made this decision. I think my days will be a lot more fun because of it.

I think that Pissarro’s ‘Jalais Hill’ embodies this choice. I have always loved Pissarro because he makes cities and nature alike seem picturesque. In this work, a couple walks on a path admiring a view of the surrounding hills cloaked in many different shades of green as puffy clouds float lazily across a summer sky. The small town in the valley bathes in the perfection of the day. I can imagine sitting almost forever in this world, absorbing its beauty.

  • 7:00 AM

Marine Corps War Memorial

Felix de Weldon, Marine Corps War Memorial, 1951-1954
The United States of America, “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” remains our great country’s name. From Washington crossing the Delaware to the terrorist attack on September 11, brave American men and women sacrificed their lives to protect the promise of freedom.

America has faced difficult times - slavery, the fear of global spread of fascism and communism, and natural disasters throughout the 235 years. But our flag remains the same: a flag representing all ethnicities and beliefs. Either from raising the flag on Iwo Jima or planting it into the rubble and debris of ground zero, the American flag waves high for the remembrance of our liberty and justice.

I am grateful for Americans who gave us that liberty like Abraham Lincoln, Martin Lutheran King Jr., and the millions of others who died for The United States and their fellow Americans. On Thanksgiving, Americans should remember these courageous men and women in our prayers and in our hearts for the sacrifices they gave us.

  • 7:00 AM

The Fighting Temeraire, Tugged to Her Last Berth to Be Broken Up

William Turner, The Fighting Temeraire, Tugged to Her Last Berth to Be Broken Up, 1838

The 98-gun ship Temeraire played a consequential role in British naval victory in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, after which it was named The Fighting Temeraire."However, thirty years later, its service came to an end. In 1838, it was decommissioned and towed to Rotherhithe to be broken.

A ghostlike warship against a sunset, a final goodbye to a former hero. The painting is thought to represent the decline of British naval power, or perhaps, to symbolize the passing away of the age of sail in competition of steamboats and iron vessels in general. In both cases, there is a nostalgia, a sense of lost, idyllic era. Temeraire travels east, against the sunset, and seems nobler and much more magnificent comparing to the black steamboat on the side. However, Temeraire's nobleness only adds more to the power of industrial technologies, for its grandness and delicateness cannot put off the inevitable - the coming era of Industrial Revolution. 

For me, coming to America has meant the past has been put aside. Triumph or failure that belongs to the past, like Temeraire, is going to be towed to disposal. New ideas and experience, like this steamboat, are leading the way to some unknown destination, while exposing and changing the shades and degrees of my personality. I cherish the decision I made and understand that every step is irrevocable. There is nothing I can ask but the hope that years later, when I encounter this painting again in some surprising moment, there will be gratitude and thankfulness for the path I took and opportunities I was given, instead of solely nostalgia and reminiscence. 

  • 7:00 AM

Nike of Samothrace

Nike of Samothrace, 190-200 BCE

I’d been to France before. By age 6, I was a platinum traveler. I’ve seen the Louvre, the Parthenon, Buckingham Palace. If you ask me about each one, I could probably rattle off a story. Probably involving how exhausted I was, or much my feet hurt, or how much I wanted to go to a European McDonalds. My parents, however, were relentless. They dragged me to sites I took for granted, reflected upon now with a proud, “I’ve seen that!” as teachers and presenters display photographs of the world’s most beautiful pieces of history.

Sick of my whining, but intent on my cultural exposure, my parents took me back to France at age 13 with my best friend. Tourist sights were only briefly visited on this trip, as I had seen them all, but she was leaving the country for the first time. Old enough now to acknowledge my ignorance, I explained to Brooke that I had climbed the Eiffel tower, but don’t really remember. But she wanted to, to say she had, so we did. When in Rome, I suppose… er… Paris.

Our venture to the Louvre held a similar purpose for us. You’re in Paris. You go to the Louvre. As we descended the stairs of the massive marble building, we were confronted by a virtual Nikon Camera catalog. “Why?” I asked my sister. “What are all these people taking pictures of?” “This.” She gestured behind her to a 6 foot, 2 inch mounted, headless statue with wings and pretty drapery. “But why, Taylor? Why this one?” “Because it’s the statue of Nike.” This explanation was not enough for me. She went on to explain that when it was a famous sculpture of Nike of Samothrace, sculpted in 200-190 BCE. First thought: that’s old. Next, okay, so how had I missed this? How was this universal knowledge for camera owners across the world, and I hadn’t known?

And then, I found out. They didn’t. At least most of them didn’t. The message, THIS IS IMPORTANT had been relayed to them by postcards, museaum memorabilia, and other camera owners. “When in Paris!” was the general international consensus.

When standing there, looking at this incredible statue that didn’t blow me away, I decided to transform my definintion of “When in Paris.” I stopped trying to make marble speak to me. I stopped feeling guilty for not being swept away by the 31 by 20 inch Mona Lisa. I allowed art to do what it would. Guiltlessly, shamelessly. France and art and culture became about the time I got lost in a subway station and got out with my discovery of a map, and application of my limited French vocabulary. In my 12 trips to the Louvre, I have yet to take a picture of Nike, or the Mona Lisa. Postcards do it better. They handle that for me. Being able to say, “I’ve been there!” is a privilege I hold less dear. I can however, tell you how many bakeries there are on the way to Shakespeare’s Books. Or how to avoid a Gypsy. And I’m thankful that, after all these years, my negligence of art came to contribute to my appreciation of real travels, real culture, and real art.

  • 7:00 AM

Unnamed Mountain Water Painting

仲丹勋,Unnamed, 1993
Known as 山水画, or literally translated as Mountain Water Painting, it's known as one of the highest forms of Chinese painting. With its inception in the Tang Dynasty, these landscape paintings focus on realism, but put a greater emphasis on grasping an emotion, such as turmoil or tranquility. From Tang Dynasty, and especially the Song Dynasty, artists began blurring the background and intensifying the clarity of the foreground. These landscape paintings also do not use color to enhance their beauty, but rather use depth and specificity. Often on the side of the paintings, there will be rows of punctilious and beautiful handwriting often on the scenery painted, or to a alluded political view- all usually written in poetic prose.

(Apparently, now I have to give my "thankfulness." I'm thankful for this painting because now I can do my Art History blog post. I'm thankful of it's background, foreground, and middle ground. I guess I can be thankful for it's lackluster color choices. I'm thankful for having free reign over blog posts to write this post, and I'm thankful for Mr. Luce's friends that helps boost this blog's traffic. [I'm also thankful for Ryan Gosling and all his glory.])

Now, I'm more thankful for the artist in this case, rather than the painting - but that doesn't undermine  my high opinion of the type of paintings. These landscape paintings have surrounded me all my life. They represent my culture that I've always felt a detachment to, and they represent uniqueness to a specific country only. However, most of all, they represent my mother because my mother actually painted this in 1993. It was on display in the Suzhou Lion Grove Garden before my relatives bought it back for us. It was one of the last paintings my mother ever painted before she came to the United States. She gave up her passion for us. I dedicate this "Thanksgiving: Susie Is Thankful" post to my mother who gave up her fantastic talent for me and my sister.

  • 7:00 AM

Paris Street, Rainy Day

Gustave Caillebotte, Paris Street, Rainy Day, 1877
Gustave Caillebotte's interest in art began with photography, and from there he started to paint. This inclination of his towards photography influenced his painting, as depth of field and other qualities from photography were apparent in his works. In this painting, the two people in the foreground are slightly blurred while the people in the background seems to be in better focus. The buildings in the background become the vanishing point and become a mystery to the viewer. The figures in the painting are complacent, and the painting depicts a casual day in Paris in the time period.

The intersection near the railroad Gare Saint-Lazare is shown in the painting and the figures are walking on the rue de Turin. The colors, which are grays, are beautiful, and the people's casual strolls make it feel like a true moment. I'm thankful for this painting because it was one of the first paintings I ever noticed when I was younger. I thought it was beautiful. My dad had just introduced the board game Masterpiece to me and my sister, and it was then that this painting caught my eye. I would try to get it every time we played even if it was not to my advantage. The painting inspired me.

  • 7:00 AM

Soft Saxophone, Scale B

Claes Oldenburg, Soft Saxophone, Scale B, 1992
Claes Oldenburg, a Swedish pop artist, created sculptures and art installations featuring mundane, everyday objects enlarged or distorted. One series in particular of "soft" musical instruments demonstrates the deconstruction and anthropomorphization of form, including this work, Soft Saxophone, Scale B. The distorted saxophone, constructed from canvas, wood, resin, and latex paint, gracefully echoes the female form, suggesting a mournful or contemplative pose with legs curled underneath. Other instruments in the series include harps, clarinets, and a drum set, collapsed in on itself to lie in a soft, disorganized heap.

Oldenburg's other works include a whole variety of "soft" objects and a few truly massive installations, such as Plug and Spoonbridge and Cherry, a massive spoon arching over a pond with a cherry balanced on the upraised edge. On display in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Soft Saxophone, Scale B was one of the works which influenced and impressed me in my childhood. I am thankful to my parents for taking me, to the museum staff for creating this environment, and to Oldenburg for showing that the most ordinary of objects may be transformed into the fantastic.

  • 7:00 AM


Munch, Puberty, 1893
Midway on our life's journey, I found myself
In dark woods, the right road lost. To tell 
About these woods is hard - so tangled and rough
And savage that thinking of it now, I feel
The old fear stirring: death is hardly more bitter.
 - Inferno, Dante, Canto I

I don't envy Dante for going through his mid-life crisis in 14th century Italy. Carrying the weight of depression, regret, and doubt before the invention of motorcycles, hair restoration, and dating services sounds like Hell on earth. The poor guy's true love died, and he'd only ever seen her twice. His political party had lost power, and his wife nagged him nightly about leaving the chamber pot lid up. A modern poet would have taken to the bottle, but whiskey hadn't hit the shelves in Italy just yet. Instead, Dante put pen to parchment and scrawled out one of the greatest poetry epics known to man, The Divine Comedy. His cantos cast his enemies into hell, placed his beloved Beatrice in heaven, gave him Virgil as a spiritual guide, and secured his place in history as il Somma Poeta.

Admittedly, I have no experience on which to base my feelings on Dante's situation. I'm a seventeen year old kid cracking jokes about people of an age more than twice my own. In some way, I am in no position to muse about the pains of growing old, but I have wandered through dark woods of my own. I suppose I'm lost in some right now. 

Each night when my head hits the pillow I sigh, and reflect, and many nights I reach the same conclusions: I am happy, but not fulfilled. I am busy, but not productive. I care deeply, but do not act. I can't decide whether I'm waiting for things to fix themselves, or for Cormac McCarthy to float through my window and show me the right road (preferably not the one he wrote about). The only thing I'm certain of is that the latter won't happen. And it shouldn't. I'm not alone in these woods. Though the brush and bramble may block my view, I know that there are others, and that many deserve their guide's attention more. 

  • 11:14 PM

The Slave Ship

J.M.W. Turner, The Slave Ship. 1840.

... And when he rises stares about confused
By the great anguish that he knows he feels,

And looking, sighs; so was that sinner dazed 
When he stood up again. Oh, power of God!
How severe its vengeance is, to have imposed

Showers of such blows.
- Inferno, Dante, Canto XXIV

"I'm going to hell." We all say it, tell other people to go there, but after reading this book, the statement rang painfully true. Though it's exaggerated, if this is truly how the afterlife works... humanity is doomed. The not-so-forgiving God described in Dante's Inferno doesn't seem to give his people many chances, such as sending people historically viewed as heroes into the depths of the Malebolge - though Dante sends his enemies there, as well. God's infinite wrath puts people in horrid situations, like swimming in excrement, drowning with one's feet on fire, or everlasting ass-prodding from demons. This piece, The Slave Ship, directly depicts punishment as the shipwreck.

Its initial title being "Slavers Throwing overboard the Dead and Dying—Typhoon coming on," Turner's piece has such contrast between the foreground and background, the shipwreck in the background serving as the punishment a wrathful God has wrought coming towards the bodies in the unclean, impure looking water meeting their ends - and the slavers' upcoming ends - with the monsters within. Turner, when showing this piece, paired it with his own epigraph, the last line of which reads,  "Hope, Hope, fanacious Hope!/Where is thy market now?" He plays upon the business aspect of the act he depicts, the unceremonious tossing of the dead and dying slaves into the ocean. The hell Turner brings to eerie life in this piece and the one met in the Inferno bring severe outlooks of punishment to the viewer, the unforgiving finger of God placing his mark in each.

  • 7:00 AM

Starry Night Over the Rhone

Vincent van Gogh, Starry Night Over the Rhone, 1888

There is a mystery behind them. Yet, they encompass ideas of home and belonging. They are road map in the sky, guiding people back to the places they long to be, or leading them from places they wish to forget. Stars envelop the world under them in a blanket of warmth and comfort, although they serve as a constant reminder there are bigger things outthere. While gazing at Vincent van Gogh's 1888 Starry Night Over The Rhone, one wonders if they have found a Heaven on Earth.

The viewer stands on a side street adjacent to the river on the East side of the Rhone. The Rhone, a river that runs from Switzerland to Southeastern France, ends in the little city of Arles. The modern day invention of the gaslight reflects upon the calm waters, as two lovers take in the scene. The sky warns the viewer that they are minute in comparison to nature and all that surrounds them.

The encompassing sky scattered with stars appears to be the perfect backdrop for the return of Dante and Virgil. They are greeted by the one who has created the whole story, God. He creates a vision of pure joy and comfort as the two make their way up from Hell in Canto XXXIV,

To get back up to the shining world from there
My guide and I went into that hidden tunnel,

And Following its path, we took no care
To rest, but climbed: he first, then I-so far,
through a round aperture I saw appear

Some of the beautiful things that Heaven bears,
Where we came forth, and once more saw the stars.

Dante inches closer to the one he loves, Beatrice, and the place where she resides. The dark and violent tale ends on a note of joy and optimism. Although Hell does exist, great salvation awaits Dante in the stars; however, his intentions of reaching Heaven are unclear. Dante finishes his trip to the underworld with a clearer sense of death only to be baffled again by the mystery of life.

  • 11:11 AM


El Greco, Laocoön, 1610-1614
The head was twisted backwards: some cruel torsion
Forced face towards kidneys, and the people strode
Backwards, because deprived of forward vision.
Perhaps some time a palsy was wrung the head
Of a man straight back like these, or a terrible stroke -
But I've never seen one do so, and doubt it could.
-Inferno, Dante, Canto XX

This circle in Dante's Inferno houses fortune tellers and people who have searched for their future. These figures rest, or rather, are dis-configured and forced to face backward and walk forward. Especially disturbing to Dante, this heinous torture brings him to tears. The notes on Canto XX explain the controversies of this circle pertaining to Virgil. Known for his "reputation in the Middle Ages as a magician and the practice of telling the future through random selections from his writing," Dante uses this situations to explain their differences, which creating the longest lecture in Inferno.

El Greco shows another form of terrible torture in Laocoon, which depicts the story of his death. El Greco took this imagery from Virgil's Aeneid where Laocoon, Neptune's priest in Troy during the Trojan War, attempts to warn the Trojans of accepting the gift from the Greeks.  In the Aeneid Laocoon exclaims,"'Are you out of your minds, you poor fools? Are you so easily convinced that the enemy has sailed away? Do you honestly think that any Greek gift comes without treachery? What is Ulysses known for? Either this lumber is hiding Achaeans inside, or it has been build as an engine of war to attack our walls, to spy on our homes and come down on the city from above. Or some other evil lurks inside, do not trust the horse Trojans! Whatever it is, I fear the Greeks, even when they bring gifts.'" This strict warning to the Trojans was followed by a spear driven from Laocoon's hand into the "belly of the beast" and stirred up a loud noise throughout because of the hollow nature of the horse. his warnings were dismissed, but still upset the Goddess Athena.

Athena, offended by Laocoon's prediction of the horse, arranged for his fate to be met in a ruthless fashion. As he was praying at Neptune's altar, two serpents emerged from the water, and without hesitation, moved straight for Laocoon's sons, killing them both. Running to his sons, Laocoon was captured by the serpents, and they wrapped "Twice around his waist and twice around his neck," Virgil describes the rest of the attack, "Their heads held high. As the priest struggled to wrench himself free from the knotted coils, his headbands were soaked with venom and gore, and his horrible cries reached up to the stars." The story goes on to say how the people thought his punishment was well-deserved for having tampered with the Greeks gift, but those Trojans would not think that for long, because Laocoon's predictions, of course, came to pass.

The story of Laocoon and Canto XX both describe gruesome dismemberment of bodies and uncomfortable pain dealt unto the people. Dante describes the bodies of the psychics and fortune tellers in an unimaginable way, and El Greco illustrates the same horror through the Laocoon and his son's death. El Greco, known for his exaggerated proportions, allows the eye to view the elongated bodies in full pain and torture, much the same way that Dante's bodies are described in Canto XX.        

  • 7:00 AM

Vatican City Spiral Staircase

Vatican City Museum Spiral Staircase, 1854
Through me you enter into the city of woes,
Through me you enter into eternal pain,
through me you enter the population of loss.
Justice moved my high maker, in power divine,
wisdom supreme, love primal. no things were before me not eternal; eternal I remain
Abandon all hope, you who enter here.

- Inferno, Dante, Canto III, Lines 1-7.


This quote would definitely be a cruel opener for a final exam. Or a very clear warning for Dante to get out of there. (Too bad Virgil’s apparently an optimist and encourages him to enter. Double yikes.) This quote graces the Gates of Dis, or the Entrance to Hell, and serves as a final nail in the coffin that any sinner that manages to enter these gates has no need to retain hope for escape. It’s a miracle Dante doesn’t swoon at this warning. 

Because Dante describes Hell as one of many levels with different types of sinners on each level, almost like a spiral down to the worst, most dismal part, I chose the staircases of Vatican City’s museums as a representation of the quote. Renown for their classic spiral down to the bottom, it reminded me of the the seemingly spiral descent into hell. But it's also beautiful, both the stairs and hell in a strange way. The pain and woes of hell bring an odd sense of beauty. It's the mixture of the different levels of pain and sins that meld together to create this intricately designed hell known as Dante's Inferno. Perhaps it's the beauty of the complexity that attracts me to the entrance of hell,and its disconsolate words create a dangerous image that's chilling and beautiful . 

I think the Vatican City Museum Staircase represents it well with the colors the designers use. It starts off as a light gray and slowly changes hues to a darker but warm brown. It's gorgeous and a little bit intimidating.  

Although the Vatican City museums clearly aren't as frightening as the quote, the style of the stairs are intricately made and the seemingly perfect spiral down to each level seem to give a different feel on each level - just like in Dante’s Inferno.
  • 7:00 AM