History, Beautiful and Otherwise
I am fascinated with art history, and history in general. Sordid truths and hidden agendas; the realities of love and the atrocities of war. The historical figures we love and hate will be prominently featured, and I will also be discussing the artists who depict them.

I've just started, obviously, but soon you will be able to use the tags to search by time period, historical figure, artist, artistic era, country, or theme.

Painting above is A Glass of Wine with Cesare Borgia, John Collier 1893

are you going to show anything from more recent artists?

For the most part, no. Unless I happen to find that a recent artist has made a fantastic representation of a historical figure that I absolutely must post, I’m going to stick with pieces that are closer to the time period which they depict.

A few tumblrs (like cavetocanvas) have awesome galleries of modern art, if that’s what you’re looking for.


Portrait of the Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici, Agnolo Bronzino c. 1540

Cosimo I de’ Medici had an iron fist to match his suit of armor. He was an authoritarian ruler during his time as head of the Florentine state, and made enough unpopular decisions that employing Swiss mercenaries as his personal guards was a necessary expense.
His first victory came when he soundly defeated Florentine exiles who were incensed when the former Duke of Florence, Alessandro de’ Medici, was assassinated and Cosimo I gained power. Cosimo I thoroughly enjoyed this win, and shortly after took Siena. Pope Pius V named him Grand Duke of Tuscany around ten years later.
Cosimo I was, like the entire de’ Medici family, a massive supporter of the arts. He also invested heavily in his military and navy. In order to do this, he levied some pretty serious taxes on his citizens. A small price to pay, though, when you consider that Cosimo I left us with the famous sites of Uffizi, Pitti Palace, and the Boboli Gardens.
Unofficially, he is also tied with Cesare Borgia for Sexiest Man Alive (in the 1500s), thanks to this picture of him as Orpheus, also painted by Agnolo Bronzino.

Portrait of the Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici, Agnolo Bronzino c. 1540

Cosimo I de’ Medici had an iron fist to match his suit of armor. He was an authoritarian ruler during his time as head of the Florentine state, and made enough unpopular decisions that employing Swiss mercenaries as his personal guards was a necessary expense.

His first victory came when he soundly defeated Florentine exiles who were incensed when the former Duke of Florence, Alessandro de’ Medici, was assassinated and Cosimo I gained power. Cosimo I thoroughly enjoyed this win, and shortly after took Siena. Pope Pius V named him Grand Duke of Tuscany around ten years later.

Cosimo I was, like the entire de’ Medici family, a massive supporter of the arts. He also invested heavily in his military and navy. In order to do this, he levied some pretty serious taxes on his citizens. A small price to pay, though, when you consider that Cosimo I left us with the famous sites of Uffizi, Pitti Palace, and the Boboli Gardens.

Unofficially, he is also tied with Cesare Borgia for Sexiest Man Alive (in the 1500s), thanks to this picture of him as Orpheus, also painted by Agnolo Bronzino.

A Huguenot on St. Bartholomew’s Day, John Everett Millais 1852

The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, in which Roman Catholics slaughtered the Huguenots (French Protestants), occurred in 1572. A common rumor is that Catherine de’Medici, the mother of Charles XI, instigated the violence and persecution against the Huguenots. The death count of the massacre is still unknown; although most estimates range from 2,000 to 7,000 bodies.
Millais, a Pre-Raphaelite painter who co-founded the Pre-Raphelite Brotherhood, painted A Huguenot on the advice of his friend and colleague William Holman Hunt. Based on the love story in the opera Les Huguenots, it became his first widely popular piece.
The young girl in the painting is desperately trying to hold herself together as her lover pulls off the white scarf she has tied on his arm. The white cloth signified the wearer’s belief in Catholicism. He removes the armband even as he embraces her - the expression on his face, that thin smile and those sad eyes, show that he loves her dearly, but he is resigned to die for his beliefs.

A Huguenot on St. Bartholomew’s Day, John Everett Millais 1852

The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, in which Roman Catholics slaughtered the Huguenots (French Protestants), occurred in 1572. A common rumor is that Catherine de’Medici, the mother of Charles XI, instigated the violence and persecution against the Huguenots. The death count of the massacre is still unknown; although most estimates range from 2,000 to 7,000 bodies.

Millais, a Pre-Raphaelite painter who co-founded the Pre-Raphelite Brotherhood, painted A Huguenot on the advice of his friend and colleague William Holman Hunt. Based on the love story in the opera Les Huguenots, it became his first widely popular piece.

The young girl in the painting is desperately trying to hold herself together as her lover pulls off the white scarf she has tied on his arm. The white cloth signified the wearer’s belief in Catholicism. He removes the armband even as he embraces her - the expression on his face, that thin smile and those sad eyes, show that he loves her dearly, but he is resigned to die for his beliefs.

The Borgia Family, Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1851

Rossetti painted this in 1851, hundreds of years after the Borgia family was in power. The colors he used are reminiscent of jewels, but there are plenty of dark crevasses contrasting throughout. A perfect analogy to the House of Borgia.
Notably absent are Rossetti’s usual soft lines and demure features. Bright red is the thematic color, tying together everything from the childrens’ hair to Cesare’s Cardinal robe. An almost sardonic connection can be drawn between the innocence of children (and a supposed man of God) versus the actions within the painting. The children dance in the foreground, either oblivious or used to the flirtation going on behind them. A dubious and, quite frankly, banal claim could be made here that the children are symbolic of the Roman citizenry during the reign of Alexander XI. But I digress: time for the main attraction.
Lucrezia Borgia is the star of this work (Rossetti was said to have quite the fascination with her), relaxing on her father’s lap while being nuzzled by her brother, Cesare, on the left. Today’s awkward family photos have nothing on the Borgias.
There have been enough allegations of Borgia incest to fill a baptismal font and then some, although many are quick to point out that most were propagated by rivals of the family. I also must add that it is worthy to note that many rumors happened to come to light at key times that were most detrimental to Pope Alexander XI and his ill-fated brood. Some rumors sprang from fact - for example, it is widely claimed that Cesare Borgia’s love for his sister Lucrezia bordered on obsessiveness. He did, after all, murder the father of her child. But incest within the Borgia family is a charged subject, as there is really no proof except that which was written by their enemies (and by enemies, I mean nearly every human being alive at the time that wasn’t a Borgia.)
Interestingly enough, as time passes on these rumors (and many others) have only served to strengthen the allure of this family to the public, which is definitely not the outcome Borgia detractors in the 16th century would have wished for.

The Borgia Family, Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1851

Rossetti painted this in 1851, hundreds of years after the Borgia family was in power. The colors he used are reminiscent of jewels, but there are plenty of dark crevasses contrasting throughout. A perfect analogy to the House of Borgia.

Notably absent are Rossetti’s usual soft lines and demure features. Bright red is the thematic color, tying together everything from the childrens’ hair to Cesare’s Cardinal robe. An almost sardonic connection can be drawn between the innocence of children (and a supposed man of God) versus the actions within the painting. The children dance in the foreground, either oblivious or used to the flirtation going on behind them. A dubious and, quite frankly, banal claim could be made here that the children are symbolic of the Roman citizenry during the reign of Alexander XI. But I digress: time for the main attraction.

Lucrezia Borgia is the star of this work (Rossetti was said to have quite the fascination with her), relaxing on her father’s lap while being nuzzled by her brother, Cesare, on the left. Today’s awkward family photos have nothing on the Borgias.

There have been enough allegations of Borgia incest to fill a baptismal font and then some, although many are quick to point out that most were propagated by rivals of the family. I also must add that it is worthy to note that many rumors happened to come to light at key times that were most detrimental to Pope Alexander XI and his ill-fated brood. Some rumors sprang from fact - for example, it is widely claimed that Cesare Borgia’s love for his sister Lucrezia bordered on obsessiveness. He did, after all, murder the father of her child. But incest within the Borgia family is a charged subject, as there is really no proof except that which was written by their enemies (and by enemies, I mean nearly every human being alive at the time that wasn’t a Borgia.)

Interestingly enough, as time passes on these rumors (and many others) have only served to strengthen the allure of this family to the public, which is definitely not the outcome Borgia detractors in the 16th century would have wished for.

Update

I’ll be featuring the Borgias and the Medicis over the next few days, my personal favorite historical families. Prepare yourself for some early Italian badassery, and keep checking back!

And once again, if you have any ideas for something you’d like to see, please let me know.

Thank you!

The Purified Souls in Purgatory, a page from Très Riches Heures (c. 1412)

Très Riches Heures is arguably the best known example of manuscript illumination that survives to this day. Also known as the Book of Hours, the illuminated manuscript was created in France for the Duke Jean de Berry by the Limbourg brothers and many other assisting artists and finished around 1485.

The Purified Souls in Purgatory, a page from Très Riches Heures (c. 1412)

Très Riches Heures is arguably the best known example of manuscript illumination that survives to this day. Also known as the Book of Hours, the illuminated manuscript was created in France for the Duke Jean de Berry by the Limbourg brothers and many other assisting artists and finished around 1485.




Portrait of Madame de Pompadour, Francois Boucher 1756

Madame de Pompadour was an exquisite badass. She was thoroughly educated in the arts from a very young age and, above all else, strove for greatness. Yes, she won the heart of Louis XV and became his official mistress, but she also worked hard to ensure that her title was not just for show. Voltaire (yes, that Voltaire) was her courtly advisor and confidante, and she also endeared herself to her master’s wife (who famously remarked “If my husband must have a mistress, better her than any other.”) Louis XV entrusted her with highly delicate matters of state and the military, and she proved herself to be of sound judgment and discreteness. Madame de Pompadour was both exquisitely beautiful and impressively intelligent, and elevated herself far beyond the status of “the King’s mistress.”
This official portrait, by Francois Boucher, was painted to commemorate the announcement of her official title of the Queen’s Lady in Waiting.

Portrait of Madame de Pompadour, Francois Boucher 1756


Madame de Pompadour was an exquisite badass. She was thoroughly educated in the arts from a very young age and, above all else, strove for greatness. Yes, she won the heart of Louis XV and became his official mistress, but she also worked hard to ensure that her title was not just for show. Voltaire (yes, that Voltaire) was her courtly advisor and confidante, and she also endeared herself to her master’s wife (who famously remarked “If my husband must have a mistress, better her than any other.”) Louis XV entrusted her with highly delicate matters of state and the military, and she proved herself to be of sound judgment and discreteness. Madame de Pompadour was both exquisitely beautiful and impressively intelligent, and elevated herself far beyond the status of “the King’s mistress.”

This official portrait, by Francois Boucher, was painted to commemorate the announcement of her official title of the Queen’s Lady in Waiting.

Titian’s Salome

Salome is one of the most frequently depicted Biblical women, especially during the Renaissance era. According to scripture, Salome danced at a banquet for Herod, who was so pleased he promised her anything she wished. After consulting her mother, Salome asked Herod for the head of John the Baptist. And promptly received it.
Salome has been used throughout history as a symbol of the intensity of a woman’s charms, the power of her wit, and the danger of trusting a beautiful woman (the last one I could do without, but this is a history lesson after all). It is worth noting that Salome did not actually kill John the Baptist herself; rather, she used a man to do the deed for her. Outsourcing at its finest.

Titian’s Salome

Salome is one of the most frequently depicted Biblical women, especially during the Renaissance era. According to scripture, Salome danced at a banquet for Herod, who was so pleased he promised her anything she wished. After consulting her mother, Salome asked Herod for the head of John the Baptist. And promptly received it.

Salome has been used throughout history as a symbol of the intensity of a woman’s charms, the power of her wit, and the danger of trusting a beautiful woman (the last one I could do without, but this is a history lesson after all). It is worth noting that Salome did not actually kill John the Baptist herself; rather, she used a man to do the deed for her. Outsourcing at its finest.