Saturday, December 24, 2016

Cote d'Azur Beach where elite Syrians go partying

Photo: The picturesque Cote d'Azur Beach in Syria’s Mediterranean coast.

The Cote d'Azur Beach (the Blue Beach), Syria's premier coastal resort on the Mediterranean coast, is adjacent to Ras Ibn Hani, an archaeological site, just eight kilometers north of Latakia city, the provincial capital and the heartland of President Bashar al-Assad's Alawite sect.

The entire area, including the beach used to be a busy tourist destination with some good hotels and holiday apartments that used to attract a good number of international tourists. But now the beach is a favorite location for only elite Syrian families and foreign soldiers stationed in Syria.

The bloody conflicts started in March 2011, as part of the Arab Spring which kick-started civil wars in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and in some other areas of the region.

When the protests started, the Syrian government deployed military to control rebels, and arrested hundreds of protesters. Several people allegedly died in clashes with the government forces. The area has a large presence of people of the Alawite sect, the sect of the incumbent President, Bashar al-Assad.

Russia has established a large electronic eavesdropping facility in Latakia, and the Khmeimim Air Base near Latakia has been made the main base of the Russian military in 2015. So, Latakia enjoys a special place in the government’s plans and actions and has been mostly less affected by the brutal war that has crippled the rest of the country.

As of 2016, the local people continue life as usual, in contrast to the death and destruction in rest of the country. While life here is still a beach party, the majority of Syrians are facing food shortage, starvation, terrorism and frequent airstrikes.

The Assad regime has a support base in the city's elite, and most of the regime forces are Alawite soldiers. For them the government had ensured enough wealth and comforts. Additionally, several thousand Russian soldiers based at Hmeimim Air Base also need entertainment and other perks for which they head to Latakia.

It’s Christmas, and sure there will be celebrations here, while majority of Syrians may be starving. There were reports of children eating grass and garbage to fight hunger.

Sultan Bayezid in the Captivity of Tamerlane by Stanislaw Chlebowski

Photo: Sultan Bayezid in Captivity of Timur (1878) by Stanislaw Chlebowski, oil on canvas painting, 70 × 112 cm, Lviv National Art Gallery, Ukraine

In this painting, often titled as “Bayezid I Held Captive by Timur”, the Polish painter Stanislaw Chlebowski (1835-84) depicts two of the most dreaded conquerors of his times.

The painting, the title of which is variously translated also as “Sultan Bayezid Prisoned by Timur”, or “Bayezid I At The Hands Of Timur”, depicts Timur (also known as Tamerlane and or Timur the Lame) as the figure standing in the fore, wearing a kimono-styled mongoloid tunic. As he is lame*, he is supporting himself with a cane. Bayazid is the declining old man with downcast eyes and apparently suffering from a bout of depression.

Bayezid I (1360-1403), the Ottoman Sultan from 1389 to 1402, had the reputation of having one of the largest and best armies in the Islamic world. He had leaded many military campaigns and unsuccessfully besieged Constantinople.

The Battle of Ankara, fought on 20 July 1402, ended in a major victory for Timur, and it marked the worst crisis for the Ottoman Empire, though it gradually recovered and flourished for two more centuries. But it was the beginning of the end of the Timurid Empire that disintegrated following Tamerlane's death on 18 February 1405.

In 1402, Bayezid was trying to conquer Hungary, when Timur found it the right opportunity to invade the Ottoman Empire. The Sultan rushed back to confront the Timurids, who were slaughtering people and plundering cities and towns on their way. The Sultan withdrew his forces from the siege of Constantinople and deployed them against the Timurids.

By the time, the brother-in-law and a vassal of the Sultan, the Serbian prince Stefan Lazarević and his forces, along with the Wallachia forces, were already fighting off the invaders. Bayezid joined forces with Lazarević who advised him to break out with him, but the sultan declined. Eventually, Taimur defeated the Ottoman forces and took the sultan prisoner on 20 July 1402.

Along with the sultan, one of his wives, Despina Hatun (Mileva Olivera Lazarević, the younger sister of Stefan Lazarevic) and one of the sultan’s sons Mustafa Celebi were also captured by Timur. Olivera was freed after the death of the sultan in captivity in March 1403. But Mustafa Celebi was held prisoner in Samarkand until 1405.

The battle is of special significance in Ottoman Empire’s history as it is the only time a ruling Sultan was captured and made prisoner. The battle also fractured the empire and ignited a civil war among Bayezid's sons for power, which continued for 11 years.

Some historians estimate that both the armies together had nearly one million soldiers, though claims regarding the exact strengths widely vary. It has been claimed that over 50,000 Turks were killed in a few hours of the war.

Earlier, Timur massacred over 100,000 people (various estimates put the figure between 100,000 and 200,000) in the city of Delhi, after a battle on 17 December 1398 in which he defeated the army of Sultan Nasir-ud-Din Mahmud Shah Tughluq who ruled the Sultanate of Delhi. According to historians, Timur’s invasions caused the deaths of 17 million people, about 5% of the world population of the time.

Timur continued to expand his empire until his death. After three months of battles against the Ming Dynasty of China, Timur died of fever on 18 February 1405.

Soon after Timur's death, his empire fell apart. But Shahrukh Mirza, the youngest son of Timur from one of his concubines, ruled the eastern region of the fractured empire, ruling from Herat in Afghanistan. After a string of weak rulers, the Timur dynasty’s rule ended in 1507.

Tamerlane’s descendents include Babur, founder of the Mughal Empire, and the Timurid ruler Ulugh Beg.

* In 1363, it is believed, Timur tried to steal a sheep when a shepherd shot two arrows, injuring his right leg and right hand where he lost two fingers. These injuries crippled him for life, and earned him the names Timur the Lame and Tamerlane.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Jean-Leon Gerome: Consummatum est

Photo: Oil on canvas painting titled Jerusalem or Consummatum est (1867) by Jean-Leon Gerome, 82 cm × 144.5 cm (32 in × 56.9 in), currently at Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Jerusalem, also called Golgotha, Consumatum Est or The Crucifixion (La Crucifixion), dated 1867, is an oil painting by the French sculptor and painter Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904). When it was first exhibited at the Salon of 1868, the spectators were confused, and it attracted negative reviews because of the unconventional technique or unusual way he chose to depict the subject.

Gerome was one of the best among scholastic lot of the artistic circles of his time, well-travelled, and was ahead of his times in depicting artistic subjects.

The actual scene of the crucifixion is not there in the picture, but there is more than that. As an immediate answer to what most of the people returning to their homes are looking at and pointing to, including the soldiers, there is the shadow of three men on the foreground, Mount Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified positioning him between two thieves. In the background is the city of Jerusalem under a clouded sky, where the crowd of people is returning to.

The painting Consumatum Est marked Gerome’s return to history painting after he travelled much through some of the countries of the Middle East and North Africa and explored Orientalism. His travels and works of the period gave the actual pictures to the art world which used to depict what was traditionally and academically shown rather than what was real. For instance, his depiction of the real lives of the people of the Muslim countries he travelled, can be seen several of his works.

The choice of the title too is out of the ordinary, as Consummatum est refers to Christ's last words (John 19:30), “It is completed”, or “It is all over”.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Indian Peacock in Flight

Photo: The Indian Peacock captured on lens during flight

The Indian Peafowl, Pavo cristatus, is perhaps the only bird with such a long train of feathers with vibrant iridescent colors. Often mistaken for tail feathers, this long train is actually made up of around 200 upper tail coverts, growing above the usual tail feathers. While both peahens and peacocks have tail feathers, peahens do not have the trains. The train feathers have multicolor eyespots.

The iridescent feather colors are not due to color pigments, but they are resulting from optical interference reflections of nanostructures of the fiber-like components of feathers. The peacock raises its train feathers, spreads them like an elaborate evenly spread fan and quivers it, and performs what is commonly known as ‘the peacock dance’ during courtship.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Artemisia Gentileschi: Suffer the little children to come unto me

Photo: Suffer the little children to come unto me (1624-25), oil on canvas painting by Artemisia Gentileschi, 134.6 cm x 97.7 cm, currently at San Carlo al Corso, Rome

The images of this painting are sometimes titled ‘Sinite Parvulos’, which refers to "Sinite parvulos venire ad me", citing Jesus from the Gospel (Mk 10: 14): “When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’”

But this painting by Artemisia Gentileschi, historically titled ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me’ (or ‘Christ blessing the children’) was untraceable for some time, and was also believed to be lost. And some art historians had wrongly attributed the work to some other artists.

The painting was originally listed in the worldly possessions of Fernando Enriquez Afán de Ribera, the 3rd Duke of Alcalà, who also is believed to be its first owner. In 1898, it was in the collection of the Duke of Sutherland. In July 1913, it was put on sale at Christie’s in London. And in 1927, it was in the collection of E. Boross at Larchmont, New York, from whom it was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in the same year.

On 30 May 1979, the Metropolitan Museum sent it for sale to Sotheby’s New York, wrongly attributing the authorship to the Italian Painter Carlo Rosa (1613-1678). After that and notably by 2001 the whereabouts of the painting became unknown.

However, it was rediscovered in the collection of San Carlo al Corso. Comparison of the known photographs of the painting with the 1979 Sotheby’s catalogue show the painting in the church is the same work, but with slight changes caused due to restoration, probably carried out after the sale in 1979.

At the area, close to the bottom edge, where restoration was done, something like the woolly back of a lamb is now visible which was not there earlier. And mysteriously, the right hand of one of the boys is missing.

This painting is one of the most beautiful works of Artemisia Gentileschi, and historians suggest that ‘it can be numbered among her masterpieces’.