Tag Archives: France

The Heist of the Mona Lisa (1911)

On August 21, 1911, Leondardo da Vinci’s most famous painting, the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre by Italian nationalist Vincenzo Peruggia. He reportedly committed the crime alone and stated that he intended to return the painting to Italy – a restoration of native goods. Peruggia was apparently unaware that Leonardo himself sold the painting to King Francois I.

However,t he case itself is one of the least understood and mysterious art heists in history. Peruggia reportedly walked into the Louvre, removed the painting fro a wall, wrapped it in clothe, and then walked out the door – all in plain view of the Security Guards (who reported that they assumed he was the Museum Photographer).

This month, Discovery News highlights the history of the heist and the man behind it in their article: “The Story Behind the Mona Lisa Heist.”

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American Teachers Do More Work for Less Money than Their Peers

Courtesy of Good is is this infographic that highlights the significant pay and work gap between American teachers and their industrialized peers. You can see the original here or click on the infographic below for a larger image.

Women Warriors – A History of Real Women in Combat

Thanks to my friend Michael who prompted me to write an article with more ‘meaty’ content. In honor of potential 2012 Presidential Candidate Newt Gingrich, I thought I would focus on women in combat. Those of us old enough to recall well remember Newt’s stated opinion on women in combat:

If combat means living in a ditch, females have biological problems staying in a ditch for thirty days because they get infections and they don’t have upper body strength. I mean, some do, but they’re relatively rare. On the other hand, men are basically little piglets, you drop them in the ditch, they roll around in it, doesn’t matter, you know. These things are very real. On the other hand, if combat means being on an Aegis-class cruiser managing the computer controls for twelve ships and their rockets, a female may be again dramatically better than a male who gets very, very frustrated sitting in a chair all the time because males are biologically driven to go out and hunt giraffes. — Newt Gingrich, Adjunct Instructor, Reinhardt College,1995 “Renewing American Civilization”

Newt has always stood by this statement, emphasizing his belief that women are incapable of being in a combat situation and drawing heavily on disproven gender stereotypes to buff up his opinion that women do not belong in the military and in fact are physically incapable of its demands.

Now, America still bars women from serving on the frontline or in ‘combat positions.’ However, the modern wars we are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are in a state of insurgency, which blurs the lines of combat, there is no true “front line” as violence can and does break out anywhere. The reality is that throughout human history, women have been soldiers and leaders of armies alongside their male counterparts. I decided to take some space on this blog to highlight famous female warriors and wartime leaders.

Joan of Arc – While still a teenage girl, Joan of Arc inspired French troops and successfully led men into battle during the Hundred Years’ War. Joan lived on the front lines, fought with the men, and was even wounded in battle on more than one occasion. In spite of being born an uneducated peasant girl in the French countryside, her tactical instincts proved more successful than many of her educated male counterparts. In fact, it was her immense popularity with the (male) army that likely led to her betrayal to the English and subsequent execution for witchcraft. In spite of her trial and condemnation by the Catholic church for witchcraft, she was later canonized by the same church 1920

Artemisia of Caria – Artemisia was a ruler in the 5th century BCE over a client kingdom in the Persian Empire. She was one of the most trusted advisors of King Xerxes and is best remembered for the role she played in the Battle of Salamis. Her skill was such that even the Greek Historian Herodotus commented on more than one occasion about her prowess in his Histories. Her skilled naval tactics, in the wake of failure of her male colleagues, prompted Xerxes to state: “My men have become women and my women, men.”

Gudit – A legendary queen of Ethiopia in the 10th century who ransacked the countryside, destroyed churches, and attempted to exterminate the members of the previous ruling dynasty.

“She is said to have killed the emperor, ascended the throne herself, and reigned for forty years. Accounts of her violent misdeeds are still related among peasants in the north Ethiopian countryside.” – Paul Henze

Gladiatrix – The female counterparts of Roman Gladiators, Gladiatrix were a popular draw in the arena and the historical sources are replete with references. Tacitus recorded in the Annals and Dio Cassius in his Histories that the Emperor Nero regularly held shows with female gladiators from the upper classes. The poet Statius recorded the popularity of Gladiatrix in Domitian’s shows. Septimius Severus unsuccessfully tried to ban female gladiators in the second century, but they continued to show up in history, art, and literature throughout the history of combative shows until their loss of prominence and popularity in the 6th century.

Nandi – A Zulu princess and the mother of famed African Warrior Shaka-Zulu was a warrior princess who fought slave-traders in 19th century Africa and raised her son to be a leader and a warrior. In fact, when Shaka became King, he established an all-female regiment in her memory.

Tomoe Gozen – the concubine of a Samurai master, Tomoe herself was trained in the arts of the Samurai and considered a master. She was an honored warrior during the Genpei War:

“Tomoe was especially beautiful, with white skin, long hair, and charming features. She was also a remarkably strong archer, and as a swordswoman she was a warrior worth a thousand, ready to confront a demon or a god, mounted or on foot. She handled unbroken horses with superb skill; she rode unscathed down perilous descents. Whenever a battle was imminent, Yoshinaka sent her out as his first captain, equipped with strong armor, an oversized sword, and a mighty bow; and she performed more deeds of valor than any of his other warriors.” – The Tale of the Heike

Ahhotep I – Was an Egyptian Queen of the 16th century BCE. She led an army against the Hyksos, an Asiatic people that had invaded the Egyptian Delta, and was pivatol in establishing the 18th dynasty. An Egyptian stele referencing her states:

“She is the one who has accomplished the rites and taken care of Egypt… She has looked after her soldiers, she has guarded her, she has brought back her fugitives and collected together her deserters, she has pacified Upper Egypt and expelled her rebels.”

Harriet Tubman – While not a combat veteran per se, Harriet Tubman was an abolitionist, served on the front-lines of the Underground Railroad (where she spent a good share of time in ditches), a spy for the Union Army during the Civil War, an advocate for Women’s Suffrage, and a great American Humanitarian. She spent most of her life on the front lines and risking her life for her moral beliefs and her country. She was listed in the Smithsonian’s recent recognition of Female Spies During the American Civil War. She was fully aware of the risks she was taking and continued to push the boundaries of her gender and her race in 19th century America.

Queen Boudicca – My favorite and my dog’s name-sake. Boudicca, Boudica, Boadicea (and all the spellings in – between). The Warrior Queen of the Britons was a well-discilined fighting animal. Born into the the British Iceni Tribe, Queen Boudicca would lead an uprising against the Roman occupation of Britain and burn London. She inspired her people to take up arms against a larger and more powerful force. The Iceni did not make distinctions in the battlefield – both men and women fought (except women who were pregnant or lactating). She struck fear in the hearts’ of Roman soldiers, generals, and statesmen.

The reality is that history is replete with examples and stories of female warriors. They did not fight in wars or lead armies in spite of their Biology but in reality, their anatomy itself did not provide a hinderance. The existence of the vagina does not make women more prone to ‘infection’ in a ditch than a man’s prostate does to him. Women’s menses do not make them emotional, vulnerable, or physically incapacitated (do your female coworkers and classmates miss a week every month?). The reality is that women, like men, are a valuable resource for the military and their service should not be limited.

My Evening with David McCullough

Recently, my friend who works at the World Affairs Council in Dallas invited me to a talk by the author David McCullough. McCullough, the writer of such books as John Adams and 1776, is here in the Lone Star state promoting his new book, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris. His new work explores the lives of 18th and 19th century Americans living and studying in Paris.

The World Affairs Council was exceptionally generous and comped me and my colleagues at Trinity Valley School five tickets to watch Mr. McCullough talk about his research and new book. You can view a great website that includes the several talks by the author and interactive timelines here.

David McCullough’s talk was vivid and engaging. He used no visual aids and focused on the main themes of the book and highlighted his primary points. Most inspiring, he spoke about the role of educator’s in American Society – that they are important for shaping the future of our country. He went so far to say that his new book is primarily about teachers, as all of its subjects returned to the United States and taught (in some capacity or another, formally and informally). Most pointedly, he began his talk by saying:

“I think our teachers are the most important people in our society and yes they should be paid more and given a lot more of our attention, appreciation, and help. This country was founded on a belief in education.”

He then quoted Thomas Jefferson saying:

“No nation has been permitted to live in ignorance with impunity.”

He then began to discuss the core topic of his book, the early relationship between France and the birth of America. Many Americans forget the intimate and joined relationship that nascent America shared with France, preferring to focus more on our connection with Great Britain. However, as McCullough pointed out:

  • Our capital city was designed by French-born architect and civil engineer, Pierre Charles L’Enfant
  • The Louisiana Purchase allowed America to, in an instance, more than double in size
  • The Statue of Liberty was given as a gift to the American people by the Republic of France
  • Our maps and geographical points often are marked with French Names (New Orleans, Marseille, Baton Rouge, Paris, etc).
  • More American servicemen are buried in France than they are in any other country, save the United States.

He highlighted the academic expertise and renown of French Universities, especially in the 19th century when they were the pinnacle of the West. Most specifically La Sarbonne, the prominent academic institute of art and science, and the Ecole de Médecine (the preeminent Medical School in the World). At this time, the French government provided University education for free (even to ‘foreigners’), they only needed to pay their transportation to France (which was expensive, long, uncomfortable, and dangerous) as well as room and board.

He was also quick to point out that the Americans living in France at this time were not expatriates living away from their country due to some form of disconnect or frustration at their home country. In fact, most of these Americans were incredibly patriotic and wanted to bring their new-found knowledge and wisdom back to their own country – which they all ultimately did.

He proceeded to highlight some of the lives that he explored in the book. What struck me was who he chose and why. He intentionally largely avoided politicians and generals (although not entirely) as he pointed out that history is made by more than just politics and war. He focused primarily on artists, scientists, inventors, and philosophic statesmen (both men and women). He pointed out that the arts are as (or more) significant in shaping a culture than specific events, indicating the great cultures of the past whose history we know very little about but whose art still graces the walls of our museums. He quoted President Kennedy with these words inscribed in the wall of the Kennedy Center,

“This country cannot afford to be materially rich and spiritually poor”

He finished up his talk emphasizing the importance of being globally aware citizens and incorporating broader perspectives and experiences in the classroom. We live in a connected world and finances and time are no longer the impediments they once were. If we are to stay a tour de force in the world, we cannot ignore our relationship and kinship with the world around us.

Werner Herzog Discusses Film & Archaeology

Famed German film director Werner Herzog was recently granted access to the Chauvet Caves, which he filmed for an soon-to-be released film on paleolithic art in France. The film entitled “The Cave of Forgotten Dreams” focuses on the early peoples of France and the earliest creations of human art.

Herzog granted an interview to Archaeology Magazine in which he discussed the unique challenges of filming the site as well as the privilege of being trusted with its memorial.

ARCHAEOLOGY: There are hundreds of ancient sites in the world that have really fascinating artwork. What was it that attracted you to Chauvet?

WERNER HERZOG: It is one of the greatest and most sensational discoveries in human culture and, of course, what is so fascinating is that it was preserved as a perfect time capsule for 20,000 years. The quality of the art, which is from a time so far, so deep back in history, is stunning. It’s not that we have what people might call the primitive beginnings of painting and art. It is right there as if it had burst on the scene fully accomplished. That is the astonishing thing, to understand that the modern human soul somehow awakened. It is not a long slumber and a slow, slow, slow awakening. I think it was a fairly sudden awakening. But when I say “sudden” it may have gone over 20,000 years or so. Time does not factor in when you go back into such deep prehistory.

The film was recorded and produced in 3D, a new technique for Herzog and premiered at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival. Read the full interview in this Archaeology Magazine article and listen to the audio from the interview here.