Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Louvre

The Louvre, in its various architectural facades, has dominated central Paris since the late 12th century. In 1190, Paris was Europe's biggest city. King Philippe Auguste (1180-1223) added a fortress on the banks of the Seine to the existing ramparts to protect the capital from an Anglo-Norman threat. This fortress was known as the Louvre.

As Paris began to expand during the next two centuries, the Louvre became enclosed within the city, losing its original defensive function.

In 1364 Raymond du Temple, Charles V's architect, began work on facelifting the fortress into a plush royal residence, boasting ornately decorated rooms with sculptures, tapestries and beautifully carved windows.

From 1527 and the reign of Francois I, the medieval Louvre began to transform into a Renaissance palace.

The construction of the Tuileries Palace some 500 metres away led to an ambitious plan to link the two buildings. This is where the Grand Galerie came into being. In 1566, Charles XI began to take the plan to task by building the ground floor of the Petite Galerie. It served as a starting point connecting the Louvre to the Tuileries via a long corridor.

Henry IV built the Grand Galerie between 1595 and 1610, providing the desired link between the royal apartments of the Louvre, to the Tuileries Palace. The work on the Grand Galerie interior was completed fifteen years later.

The reigns of Louis XIII, Louis XIV and Louis XV resulted in the Louvre that we see today, however it slipped into a period of dormancy. A number of projects were started, only to be abandoned shortly afterwards.

In 1791, the revolutionary Assemblee Nationale decreed that the "Louvre and the Tuileries together will be a national palace to house the king and for gathering together all the monuments of the sciences and the arts. On August 10th, 1793, the Museum Central des Arts opened to the public for free viewing. The collections of art and sculpture gradually spread over the entire building during the late 18th and 19th centuries.

The Tuileries burned down in May 1871 and were eventually demolished after lengthy disputes, in 1883. Thus began the birth of the modern Louvre. It no longer acted as the seat of power, and was devoted almost entirely to culture. The museum began to take over the entire huge complex of buildings.

President Francois Mitterand began the Grand Louvre Project consisting of a complete reorganization of the museum, on September 26th, 1981. The glass pyramid built by I. M. Pei was inaugurated on March 30th, 1989. It serves as an entrance to the large reception hall located beneath, which Robert Langdon used in "The Da Vinci Code."

In 1993 the renovated Richlieu wing opened, the biggest expansion in the museum's history.

The Louvre now enjoys some 6 million visitors every year, admiring its truly universal scope of collections amassed through the centuries. It is the most visited museum in the world. Almost 380,000 objects and 35,000 works of art from pre-history to the 19th century are exhibited, covering an area of 652,300 square feet ( 60,600 square metres). The curator is one Marie-Laure de Rochebrune. The Louvre currently employs a staff of 2,000, led by Director Henri Loyrette.

The museum earned a staggering $2.5million for allowing filming for "The Da Vinci Code" in its galleries. It is most famous for Leonardo Da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" painting in the Salle Des Etats, highly detailed in Dan Brown's book, "The Da Vinci Code."

Galileo Galilei

In his non-stop thriller, 'Angels and Demons', Dan Brown explores the works of Galileo and his relationship with the Catholic church. In attempting to understand Galileo, we must morph back through the portal of time over 1,800 years before the Italian scientist, to the age of the Greek philosopher, Aristotle (384-322BC).

Aristotle's doctrine, that the universe was uncreated and had the earth at the centre of the cosmos, was widely believed and accepted in Galileo's day. It had survived eighteen centuries but the Renaissance Man was out to propose a new idea, and to prove it too.

At this point, we need to acknowledge another figure in the form of Copernicus (1473-1543). Just as John the Baptist was the forerunner for Jesus Christ, so Copernicus prepared the way for Galileo. His proclamation of a Sun-centred solar system with the planets rotating around the Sun, must have felt like somebody saying that humans would one day be zooming around the globe at unimaginable speeds in machines with wings...
Copernicus, friendly with the church, was however, roundly ignored in favour of the traditional Aristotlean theory.

A flurry of names appear in the early developments of Renaissance astronomy. Adding to the list now is that of Giordano Bruno (1548-1600). The Catholic church, already slightly annoyed at Copernicus, became extremely agitated with Bruno as he bravely dared to vigorously promote Copernicus' heliocentric theory. With the church firmly rooted in their theory that God couldn't have put us humans anywhere but in the very centre of His universe, Bruno's repeated declarations to the contrary finally rubbed the church up the wrong way.

After spending seven seemingly unjustified years in prison, Bruno was given the opportunity to recant his position and support of heliocentrism, to which he refused. He was sentenced to death and burned at the stake.

And so the historical context is set for the introduction of Galileo Galilei. Those before him had insistently claimed that Aristotle's age-old theories were in fact untrue, making the church's interpretation of scripture similarly untrue, but without any justifiable proof for these statements. Heresy. Galileo, however, had something else up his sleeve. He made the planets and stars observable by his significant enhancement of the telescope.

His father, Vincenzo, had a great impact on his son, in particular his detest for those who blindly followed theory. "It seems to me that they who rely simply on the weight of authority to prove any assertion, without searching out the arguments to support it, act absurdly." A strong quote, especially in these somewhat fragile times where the Catholic church's authority on matters was expected to be final.

The church's 'blind' reliance on the sayings of a pre-Christ philosopher probably irked Galileo as he pondered his father's wise words. To him, the church was throwing all it's eggs into one basket without a semblance of supporting proof. To the church, Galileo was seen as a disturbance to doctrine that had been established for centuries, another Copernicus or Bruno rising in rebellion against the Bible, against authority, which was all-encompassing.

Richard J. Blackwell, Galileo scholar, explains how "since God is its author, every statement in the Bible must be true...the loyal Christian believer is required to accept it as true as a matter of religious faith." However, according to Charles Seife, author of 'Alpha and Omega', Galileo's insistence on the truth of Copernican doctrine provided a conflict, in that he "claimed that science could force theologians to change their views, rather than vice versa."

And so we arrive at the science versus religion dispute highlighted by Dan Brown in 'Angels and Demons.'

Galileo, despite the influence of his father, had nevertheless endeavoured to merge his scientific beliefs in accordance with those religious beliefs of the church. "Holy scripture and nature proceed equally from the divine word..." he maintained, whilst endorsing the view that "the Bible teaches how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go." He deeply felt that the Book of Scripture, and the Book of Nature (whose secrets were unlocked by mathematics) were two distinct avenues to truth that shouldn't conflict with each other.

Being a staunch Catholic himself, perhaps Galileo was torn between making the truth of his observations known, and being politically correct by adhering to church doctrine, in the midst of a Protestant uprising. Through his telescopic observations, he had the right message, but unfortunately, it had arrived at the wrong time.

Galileo agreed, at the demand of Cardinal Bellarmine, to teach the Copernican theory as a 'hypothesis,' being forbidden to teach it as 'true.'

For the church, it wasn't so much a science versus religion issue, as Dan Brown would have us believe by merely reading his book, but was more of an authority issue. It was about how truth is learned and who has the authority to teach it. Galileo countered that there were two books - the Book of God (the Bible) and the Book of Nature (God's creation). Galileo intimated that the only people who were essentially qualified to interpret the Book of Nature were mathematicians. In other words, he was saying that theologians lacked the technical knowledge to comprehend the natural world.

The church could not accept playing second fiddle, filling in the blanks to science, with the Bible eventually becoming unnecessary as it was prone to human error in interpretation, whereas science dealt directly with nature, which was its own perfect interpreter. And where would moral values go in Galileo's purely mathematical world?

For fifteen hundred years of existence, the church had presided over all fields of intellectual and spiritual enterprise. And now one man, Galileo Galilei, sought to disprove, discredit, and undermine their current, and future, authority. It seems that Galileo just couldn't resist teaching what he had gazed at with his very own eyes in the heavens, as 'truth' and not a 'hypothesis', as he was commanded. And who could blame him, having seen celestial objects that no man had seen before, not even the Pope and Cardinals, who assumed authority over such things.

Maybe adding to the church's late hostility towards Galileo was the notion that he, and probably the church, saw himself as some kind of Prophet figure. In his book entitled "The Assayer" he wrote, "It was granted to me alone to discover all the new phenomena in the sky and nothing to anybody else." He died in captivity under house arrest.

In the end, the Catholic church made their biggest mistake in condemning Galileo's defence of Copernicanism, which theory later proved to be absolutely true. He was a man most definitely ahead of his time. However, the church had felt forced to make this harsh stance in light of the hostile political climate of the day.

Galileo's greatest and most significant contribution to the sciences was his creation of detailed observations to test theory. Einstein acknowledged him as the founder of modern science. John Castro concludes, "Galileo was right. Unencumbered by doctrine or prejudice, he opened the skies to the mind of man, and in so doing, inaugurated the modern age."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Dan Brown

Dan Brown fans, this is the place for you! I will be posting a host of items about topics and controversial issues which are found between the covers of Dan Brown's famous works. There are a plethora of ideas to be discussed, so stay tuned. From secretive groups such as the Illuminati, the Priory of Sion and the Masons, to famous works of art by Da Vinci and Bernini, to scientific theories like the Entanglement theory, antimatter, and Noetic Science which either threaten religious faith, or justify it. Come and do your extra research and study here.
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