Women explorers: Marianne North

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It wasn’t uncommon for early women explorers to have a taste for solitude. Take Marianne North, the Englishwoman who in the 1800s circumnavigated the globe unaccompanied, spending thirteen years traveling and skirting Victorian convention.

Her paintings of flowers and landscapes hang at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, outside central London.


In her autobiography she recounts her travels, which she didn’t begin until she was forty.

In Nainital in the Himalayas in India’s Uttarakhand state, she liked sitting in the sun.

In Philadelphia, she walked the parks and Zoological Gardens enjoying idle days.

In the Bunya Mountains of Queensland, Australia, she said she enjoyed “my entire solitude through the grand forest alone.” Today, a genus of tree and several plant species are named for her.**

You can see North’s work here: https://www.kew.org/mng/gallery/

**Rosenbloom, Stephanie. Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities, and the Pleasures of Solitude, Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

How art history became an academic (& my favorite) field of study

Before Charles Eliot Norton had become Harvard’s first professor of that discipline, art history had, in general, been considered, not a field of study, but a matter of craft and technique to be taught by painters to other painters.

Scholarship about art, and especially about Italian art, entered a new era as the German universities began developing large-scale historical studies like those of Swiss scholar Jacob Burckhardt, whose Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy was published in English in 1878.


In Great Britain, tastes were influenced by the work of Norton’s close friend Ruskin in books like The Stones of Venice (1851–1853) and The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849).


Following Ruskin, Norton loved best in Italy the powerful moral uplift of Dante and of Italy’s medieval Gothic architecture. In Norton’s art history courses, the Renaissance was the unhappy termination of the Middle Ages, which had been the last great era of spiritual unity and well-being.

There was a joke current among Harvard undergraduates that Norton had died and was just being admitted to Heaven, but at his first glimpse staggered backward exclaiming, “Oh! Oh! Oh! So Overdone! So garish! So Renaissance!”

“Norton,” Bernard Berenson commented drily years later, had done what he could at Harvard to restrain “all efforts toward art itself.”

Rachel,Cohen. Bernard Berenson (Jewish Lives) (p. 45). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.


British Houses of Parliament are physically rotting away

The Palace of Westminster, with its cinematic Big Ben clock, set beside the River Thames, is a survivor — of epic fire, German bombs, sulfuric smog and bad plumbing.Screen Shot 2018-04-30 at 11.06.50 AM

An eccentric masterwork of Victorian genius, its dual chambers for lords and commoners are the living, breathing heart of constitutional monarchy, the home of Parliament, and one of the most photographed buildings in the world.

But Westminster is a wreck, its caretakers say.

The palace is not falling down. Not at all. Its bones, the superstructure, are solid enough, and carrying on, in British fashion, even if its dermis of Yorkshire limestone is spotty.