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Divine Wisdom in Novgorod the Great

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This article is from a series by the invaluable William Brumfield, (Wikipedia), Professor of Slavic Studies at Tulane University, New Orleans, USA.

Brumfield is the world’s leading historian of Russian architecture.  He makes frequent trips to Russia, often to her remote regions, and records the most unusual examples of surviving architecture with detailed, professional photography.  

His most recent book is a real treasure, Architecture At The End Of The Earth, Photographing The Russian North (2015). (Amazon).  This truly beautiful book was made possible by the support of a US philanthropist, and its true cost is 3 times its retail price, and we can’t recommend it highly enough.  Here is our 2015 review of it.

Bravo to RBTH for making Brumfield’s work possible, and providing such a great platform for his beautiful photography.  We recommend visiting the RBTH page, which has a slide show for each article with many more pictures than we can fit in here.

Don’t believe in miracles?  Well, we can assure you, Brumfield’s work is undoubtedly just that.  You can find a complete list of his articles on RI here.

The original title of this article was: Divine Wisdom in Novgorod the Great


The city of Novgorod, officially referred to since 1999 as “Novgorod the Great” (Veliky Novgorod), is a magnificent repository of medieval Russian art, with more than 50 churches and monasteries extending from the 11th through the 17th centuries. In 1992, this wealth of historic monuments — centered on the Novgorod kremlin — was honored with inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage list.

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Medieval chronicles first mention Novgorod between 860 and 862, when the eastern Slavs summoned the Varangian leader Rurik to assume control of their affairs. Although the Rurikovich rulers transferred power to Kiev at the end of the 9th century, Novgorod continued to exercise control over a vast area of northern Rus.

In 989, following the official acceptance of Christianity in the domains of Grand Prince Vladimir of Kiev, Novgorod was visited by Vladimir’s ecclesiastical emissary, Bishop Joachim of Kherson.  The bishop overturned pagan idols into the Volkhov River and commissioned the first stone church, dedicated to Sts. Joachim and Anna, as well as a wooden Church of St. Sophia, with 13 “tops,” or domes.

The political history of Novgorod was far from calm. The city not only frequently challenged its leaders, including Rurik, but also participated in the princely feuds that wracked the Kievan state. Nevertheless, Novgorod prospered during the 11th and 12th centuries as part of the Dnieper trade route from the Baltic to the Black Sea. With its mercantile wealth, the city had the means to create a citadel and an imposing architectural ensemble of churches.Image iconsnimok_ekrana_2016-08-24_v_18.18.27.png

The Volkhov River, which separated the city into the Trading Side and the Sophia Side (after the Cathedral of St. Sophia), provided an essential link for trade and exploration within a network of waterways that led in every direction. The extent of this commercial activity produced literate citizens independent of Kiev and its representative in Novgorod, who was usually the brother or son of the Kievan grand prince.          

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The oldest surviving and most imposing monument in the city is the Cathedral of St. Sophia (Divine Wisdom), built between 1045 and 1050 and located in the kremlin, on the west bank of the Volkhov River. The cathedral was commissioned by the prince of Novgorod, Vladimir Yaroslavich, as well as by his father, Grand Prince Yaroslav the Wise, and by Archbishop Luke of Novgorod.          

It is fitting that Yaroslav, whose own Sophia Cathedral in Kiev was entering its final construction phase at this time, should have played a role in the creation of the Novgorod St. Sophia.  Novgorod that had been the base of his power during the reign of his father, Grand Prince Vladimir of Kiev.        

With the building of large masonry cathedrals dedicated to the Divine Wisdom in both Kiev and Novgorod, Yaroslav rendered homage to one of the most sacred mysteries of the Orthodox Church, and established a symbolic link between the two major cities of his realm and Constantinople.    

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In addition Yaroslav’s participation would have been essential from a practical point of view. Masonry construction was rare in Novgorod before the middle of the 11th century, and a cathedral of such size and complexity could only have been constructed under the supervision of experienced builders.           

The builders applied a method of placing blocks of local rough gray limestone within a mortar of crushed brick and lime that imparted a pink hue to the coarsely textured façades. Narrow plinthos brick was used for the interior arches and vaulting, as well as for other segments that required structural precision. Stucco was first applied only in the interior, which was then covered with frescoes painted by local and foreign masters from Greece and the Balkans.          

On the exterior the cathedral walls presented a highly textured appearance, even after cladding with mortar to reduce the unevenness of the surface. The earliest reference to the application of whitewash to the walls appears in the Novgorod chronicle under the year 1151.   

The Novgorod cathedral included enclosed galleries attached to the north, west, and south facades. Originally intended to be only one story, the galleries evolved during the building of the cathedral into an integral part of the structure on both levels. The north and south galleries contain chapels on the ground level, and the west gallery includes a round stair tower that leads to the upper gallery levels, including the choir gallery in the main structure.   

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The facade above the west portal displays fragments of a medieval fresco depicting the Old Testament Trinity. The portal itself contains the bronze Magdeburg Doors, produced in Magdeburg in the 1050s and taken as loot from the Varangian fortress of Sigtuna by Novgorod raiders in 1117.           

The culminating point of the Novgorod St. Sophia Cathedral is its ensemble of cupolas, whose original form would have had a lower pitch than the helmet-shaped domes now in place. The design is one of the most impressive moments in medieval Russian architecture. The dome over the central crossing predominates in height and diameter, yet the four subsidiary domes are so closely placed as to appear part of one perfectly devised whole. The structure itself provides an admirable base for the domes, with its lack of surface decoration and only the simplest of architectural details.          

The emphasis on height is maintained in the interior, where the piers of the main aisles soar directly to the barrel ceiling vaults. Novgorod chronicles indicate that the interior was painted with frescoes over a period of several decades. According to the Third Novgorod chronicle, soon after the completion of construction, “icon painters from Tsargrad (Constantinople)” painted Christ with his hand raised in blessing (probably an image of the Pantocrator in the central dome) and other representations of the Savior. Fragments of the 11th-century work, including full-length paintings of Emperor Constantine and Elena, have been uncovered, as well as early 12th-century frescoes.          

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Most of the original painting of the interior has vanished under centuries of renovations. (The current frescoes date primarily from the 19th century.) The Novgorod cathedral lacked the elaborate mosaics characteristic of major churches in Kiev before the mid-12th century, yet there was decorative mosaic work on the floor and in the altar space. 

The St. Sophia Cathedral is surrounded by an array of historic monuments that include the massive Cathedral Bell Gable (15th-18th centuries), the Clock Tower (now dated to the 1670s) and the Archbishop’s Chambers — also known as the Faceted Chambers, originally built in the 1430s and substantially rebuilt in the 19th century. The fortress walls and towers have been maintained and restored to a 15th-century appearance, although some of the towers date to the late 13th century.     

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Facing the St. Sophia Cathedral to the south is the gargantuan bell monument known as the “Millennium of Russia.” Designed by the sculptor Mikhail Mikeshin and others, the monument was unveiled in 1862 to honor the millennium of the founding of dynastic authority among the ancient Rus.          

At the top of the monument is a massive bronze globe surmounted by an angel holding a cross. Around the sphere are six statuary groups signifying defining moments in the history of Russian statehood, from Riurik, founder of the first dynasty, to Peter the Great, founder of the Russian Empire. At the bottom of the bell are scenes with exemplary figures from spiritual, cultural, state and military service. A notable omission is Tsar Ivan the Terrible, who sacked Novgorod and killed many of its inhabitants in 1570.

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Sex education: The creator of CLIMAX: ‘Good sex is like cooking, but there aren’t recipes for female pleasure on the internet’ | Society

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Our ways of watching television have changed. No longer do we sit down to see what’s on TV, instead subscribing to platforms where we can watch our favorite content. But can that formula translate to content beside series, documentaries and movies? Can it be used to change the way we experience sex education? CLIMAX, a platform of sex education videos, is trying it out.

The platform started as an explicit educational series dedicated to female pleasure. Far from pornography, it was particularly directed towards women and sought to give advice and ideas for greater self-knowledge and sexual enjoyment. But that was just the beginning. As Camille Mariau, CLIMAX’s director of projects, explains, they are currently working on “a monthly membership platform dedicated to sexual wellbeing. The users will ahve access to periodic new content, ordered by topic (pleasrue for people with vulvas, for those with penises, tantric sex, oral sex, post-partum sex, etc.). We really want to create the perfect guide to help our users deconstruct their ideas about sexuality.” Currently, the platform has partnerships with educational and healthcare institutions, in order to bring education about female sexuality to all parts of society.

Laurène Dorléac is an expert in the technology market and co-creator of CLIMAX. “Not only is female pleasure little understood, but I also realized that taboos around the subject are still very present.” That’s why, despite her lack of experience in the area, she decided to venture into the topic. “Good sex is like cooking: it’s a creative process that requires practice, experimentation and care to have a good flavor. There are plenty of recipes and cooking classes, but we can’t find anything satisfactory about female pleasure on the Internet! That’s what led me to create the platform, so that we can all have access to better sexual education.”

The project brought together international studies, advice from psychologists and sexologists and over 100,000 testimonies. “Pleasure is a very serious thing, and it deserves a very rigorous approach,” she says.

CLIMAX comes to Spain

While the project was founded in France, currently, 40 percent of its subscribers are outside of the country, largely in the United States and United Kingdom. The team is optimistic about the Spanish market. “The market seems to be ready for a project like this. More than talking about pleasure, we really want people to have easy access to safe information about sexual education,” says Camille Mariau. Since the project launched in Spain just a few months ago, most of its users are between 28 and 45 years old, and, surprisingly, they are divided 50/50 between men and women.

To spread the news about the project, they have the help of Teresa Riott, known for her role as Nerea in the Netflix series Valeria, who narrates the videos. “It seems to me like a new idea in education, and it’s very necessary in order to better understand all the possibilities of our pleasure. CLIMAX has also had success in other countries. I’ve learned a lot about female sexuality in the process,” the actress explains.

She emphasizes that “they are videos that you can watch alone, in private, and you can experiment,” which “gives people confidence to explore their bodies without concerns.”

The platform’s content is explicit, but tasteful; obvious, but well-presented. It repeats explanations we have read in plenty of books, but which acquire a new dimension when we can see them on a screen: without drawings, diagrams or taboos, simply showing how to stimulate a vulva. The videos are meant to educate, not to excite, and they have no resemblance to porn. The images are accompanied by Riott’s voice, which explains each step in a clear and simple way, adding touches of scientific information. It explains not only how to stimulate the vulva, but also how and why the stimulation works.

We’ve learned that it’s much easier to exercise at home, or even to do home improvement projects, with the help of a Youtube tutorial video that shows us each step. So it makes all the sense in the world that we can use tutorials to learn how to excite our bodies, moving step-by-step over each part of our anatomy.

The platform is also notable for its diversity, not only in the appearances of the vulvas on screen, but also in the techniques proposed. It includes videos of 19 different masturbation techniques. In Spain, female masturbation has experienced a revolution in recent years. The brand Lelo, specialized in clitoral suction toys, increased its sales by 440% in 2019. The Satisfyer toy was even more popular: it registered an increase in sales of 1,300% in 2020, to the point that it had to resort to European countries to restock the toys during one of the busiest months of the year. Those toys finally normalized female masturbation. Vibrators themselves have also experienced their own revolution. Their technology and shapes have become more sophisticated, and they have become more effective and discreet. And Gwyneth Paltrow’s website Goop now features Viva la Vulva, an “extra-silent” vibrator model that can be used at any time without making any noise. Such devices are proof that manufacturers have taken pains to innovate their products for female pleasure, until recently a forgotten sector. Gone are the old dildos and penis replicas.

Beyond masturbation, with or without the help of toys, the content of CLIMAX “is like an encyclopedia of ideas that you can choose and use to enrich your sexual life. It can help you be more creative, learn moves that women with vulvas might like, etc. It can also be used as a basis to start a conversation with your partner about what you like, what you want to try or not. We want to give people the opportunity to get to know their own body or the body of their partner better,” explains Mariau.

To that end, the first two seasons are entirely scientifically based. To develop the content, 74 international scientific studies, widely referenced and accepted by the scientific community, were consulted. “There is one study that I find special: Shere Hite’s ‘The New Hite Report,’ a bestseller that has sold tens of millions of copies, which describes how women feel during different sexual activities and when they orgasm with greater frequency,” Mariau says.

In addition to a surge in vibrator sales, women have been consuming more porn than ever in recent years. According to a study by Pornhub on porn consumption in the pandemic, women increased the amount of porn they consumed by 17.5%. Audio porn, one of the latest developments in the industry, is particularly popular among women. And websites for pornographic content aimed at women, taking into account the tastes and aesthetics that female arousal requires, have proliferated in recent years.

Mission: equality in pleasure

The work of Shere Hite is one of the great sources of inspiration for CLIMAX. The late writer and sexologist was especially interested in the female orgasm. She interviewed some 3,500 American women, from prostitutes to former nuns, to create ‘The Hite Report: A Nationwide Study of Female Sexuality’ in 1976. Among her conclusions stood out two ideas: first, that few women reached orgasm through intercourse (only 30%), although they did through masturbation. Secondly, the clitoris was the key to climax.

CLIMAX is organized into several themes, which are available in different subscription packs: external pleasure (10 episodes), internal pleasure (11 episodes) and tantra exercises (7 episodes).

“Our mission is to equalize pleasure in a world where women report being less satisfied than men in their sexual activities, feeling less pleasure and having fewer orgasms. Education will make it possible,” the expert concludes.



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Sonny Barger, founder of Hells Angels, dies at 83 | USA

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Hells Angels founding member Sonny Barger in 1979.
Hells Angels founding member Sonny Barger in 1979.Janet Fries (Getty Images)

Sonny Barger, the founding member of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, died on Thursday in California at the age of 83. Barger was the face of the biker gang that became one of the main counterculture movements in the United States in the 1960s. Barger’s family confirmed his death in a message on Facebook. “Please know that I passed peacefully after a brief battle with cancer,” the message stated.

Sonny Barger – whose real name was Ralph Hubert Barger – was born in northern California, and taught himself to ride a motorcycle when he was 11 years old. It was an American-made Cushman scooter. From that moment on, he tried to only assemble motorbikes with parts made in the US, a task that became increasingly difficult as the world became more open to international trade.

In 1957, he founded the Hells Angels chapter in Oakland, California. This chapter was founded nine years after the first one opened in Fontana, in the same state. Barger was the national president of the Hells Angels, a group that became notorious for its links to violent and organized crime. Barger was arrested more than 20 times and spent 13 years of his life in prison for different crimes. In November 1992, for example, he was released from federal prison after spending four years behind bars for organizing to kill members of the rival Outlaws Motorcycle Club. When his parole came to an end in 1994, 700 bikers came out to celebrate the news.

Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger at the Altamont Free Concert in 1969.
Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger at the Altamont Free Concert in 1969.

But the darkest chapter of the Hells Angels took place on December 6, 1969. That night, the biker members were hired as security guards at the Altamont Free Concert in California, where the Rolling Stones performed. Representatives of the band reportedly offered the Hells Angels $500 worth of beer in exchange for providing security. Members of the biker gang had worked without incident as security at concerts for bands such as The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. But at the Altamont Free Concert, which brought together 300,000 people, the situation became violent. During the Rolling Stones’ performance, fights broke out in the audience. Meredith Hunter, an 18-year-old concertgoer, was stabbed to death by a member of the Hells Angels after approaching the stage. The incident was caught on camera and became a central scene in the Maysles Brothers documentary Gimme Shelter, in which Barger admitted the bikers did not have the training to do security work. A few days after the concert, in a call to a local radio station, he said: “I ain’t no cop. I ain’t never gonna police nothin.’”

The incident stained the image of the Hells Angels and Barger – who had the name Hell’s Angels Oakland tattooed on his right shoulder – struggled for several years to change the gang’s violent reputation. “Catholics probably commit more crimes than we ever thought of,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1994 after being released from prison on parole. “Probably politicians commit more crimes.”

Writer Hunter S. Thompson compared the biker gang to the student protesters of the 1960s, who paved the way for civil rights in America. “The difference between the student radicals and the Hells Angels is that the students are rebelling against the past, while the Angels are fighting the future. Their only common ground is their disdain for the present, or the status quo,” he wrote in his book Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs.

The Hells Angels were one of America’s most striking subcultures, and their influence can be seen in many areas of society. In one of his books, Barger claims that Harley-Davidson – the motorcycle brand favored by the group – adopted the gang’s ideas into its models. Barger played himself in the 1967 film Hells Angels on Wheels, where he appeared alongside Jack Nicholson. He also had a small role in the TV show Sons of Anarchy.

Barger was a difficult character to define. He got up at 4.30am to feed his dogs and horses, then worked out for three hours, doing weights and going jogging. By 8am, he was on his motorcycle and driving down an off-beaten track. Unlike the stereotypical biker, he wore a helmet that covered his entire face. This was due to the fact that he had his vocal cords removed in 1982 after suffering from throat cancer.

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Art fakes: Disputed ‘Basquiats’ seized by FBI shake the US art world | Culture

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While New York surrenders once again to the genius of Jean-Michel Basquiat with an exhibition of unpublished work curated by his family, in Orlando (Florida), there is considerably more controversy over the work of the artist who died at the age of 27. An exhibition at the Orlando Museum of Art dedicated to the former close friend of Andy Warhol, entitled Heroes & Monsters, has cost the head of that gallery his job, while the FBI investigates the authenticity of 25 of the works, not to mention the threats made by the director against an expert who had been commissioned to evaluate the authorship.

Although the scandal began to take shape in February, when the exhibition opened, the FBI raid took place last Friday with the seizure of the paintings with a contested attribution to Basquiat. Aaron De Groft, director and chief executive of the museum, has relentlessly defended that these are genuine works, while emphasizing that it is not a museum’s role to certify the authenticity of the works it exhibits. “[The paintings] came to us authenticated by the best Basquiat specialists,” he told the local NBC television station in February.

De Groft had for months championed the importance of the paintings, asserting that they are worth millions of dollars, until an expert showed up who’d been hired by the owners of the paintings and she began to question his version of events. The director was fired on Tuesday, just two business days after agents seized the 25 suspicious works. The museum’s board of trustees met for hours that day, but not before warning employees that anyone who dared to discuss the matter with journalists would suffer the same fate as De Groft. Hence, it is impossible to know the version not only of the former director, but of any worker at the center. Nor can any information be gleaned at the New York exhibition, a mixture of unpublished work and memorabilia, where organizers are fearful of the devaluation caused by the Orlando scandal.

FBI agents during the seizure of the dubious Basquiat paintings at the Orlando Museum of Art on June 24.
FBI agents during the seizure of the dubious Basquiat paintings at the Orlando Museum of Art on June 24.Willie J. Allen Jr. (AP)

“It is important to note that there is still nothing that makes us think that the museum has been or is the subject of an investigation,” Emilia Bourmas-Free told the local chain on behalf of the art gallery. Cynthia Brumback, chairwoman of the museum’s board of trustees, expressed itself in similar terms in a statement, saying that the board of trustees is “extremely concerned about several issues related to the exhibition Heroes & Monsters,” including “the recent revelation of an inappropriate e-mail correspondence sent to academia concerning the authentication of some of the artwork in the exhibition,” as reported by The New York Times.

The statement refers to a disparaging message sent by De Groft to the specialist hired for the expert opinion, cited in the FBI investigation as “Expert 2″ but who the New York Times has confirmed is Jordana Moore Saggese, an associate professor of art at the University of Maryland. This expert, who received $60,000 for a written report, asked the museum not to have her name associated with the exhibition, according to the FBI affidavit. Angry, De Groft threatened to reveal the amount of the payment and share the details with her employer, the university.

“You want us to put out there you got $60,000 to write this?” wrote De Groft, according to the affidavit. “Ok then. Shut up. You took the money. Stop being holier than thou. Do your academic thing and stay in your limited lane.” The board said it has launched an official process to address the matter. The scandal was precipitated a few hours after the closing of the exhibition, which had originally been meant to travel to Italy.

Facade of the Orlando Museum of Art, with the promotional poster of the exhibition dedicated to Basquiat, on June 2.
Facade of the Orlando Museum of Art, with the promotional poster of the exhibition dedicated to Basquiat, on June 2.John Raoux (AP)

The mystery of the cardboard box

But how did the paintings get to the Orlando Museum? The museum and its owners maintain that the paintings were found in a Los Angeles storage unit in 2012. The New York Times reported that questions arose over one of the paintings, made on the back of a cardboard shipping box with FedEx lettering in a typeface that was not used until 1994, six years after Basquiat’s death, according to a designer who worked for the company.

Both De Groft and the owners of the paintings maintain that they were made in 1982 and that Basquiat sold them for $5,000 to a famous television screenwriter, now deceased, who deposited them in a storage unit and forgot about them.

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