The Darmstadt Artists’ Colony

The Darmstadt Artists’ Colony

Between 1899 and 1914, the Mathildenhöhe (Mathilda Heights) of Darmstadt, a city in the state of Hesse, Germany, was the site of the legendary Artists’ Colony. It was founded by the young and ambitious Ernst Ludwig, Grand Duke of Hesse, who was the grandson of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, and brother to Alexandra who married Tsar Nicholas II, the last Emperor of Russia. 

Grand Duke Ludwig was determined to turn his state into a cradle of modern design and art on the highest level. To attain this goal, he commissioned some of the most talented artists of the time to become members of the Colony, including Vienna’s distinguished architect Joseph Maria Olbrich, one of the Vienna Secession founders, and self-taught Peter Behrens, who would become Germany’s top architect in the decade to follow. 

Situated close to the city centre, the Artists’ Colony became a sensational experimental field for artistic innovations in which the sovereign and a group of young artists realized their vision of a fusion of art and life. Their intention was to revolutionize architecture and interior design in order to create a modern living culture with an integration of both housing and work space. The whole human life-style was to be reformed to gain in beauty and happiness as well as in simplicity and functionality.

Beginning during a period when art existed for the sake of its beauty alone, the progress of the Artists’ Colony was slow; however, after 1901, the program gradually became more rational and realistic. This change was evident, among other things, in the numerous buildings created on the Mathildenhöhe from 1900 to 1914. Though at first the artists concentrated on the construction of private villas, they later created apartment houses and workers’ homes in an effort to face the arising questions of their time’s life and housing.

The ensemble of the Darmstadt Artists’ Colony is considered today to be one of the most impressive records of the dawning of modern art. Its appearance is still marked primarily by the buildings of the architect Joseph Maria Olbrich, who notably created the remarkable silhouette of the Colony, facing the city of Darmstadt, with his Wedding Tower and the Exhibition Building, both completed in 1908. 

The Mathildenhöhe Darmstadt is basically an open-air museum where the artwork is present in the form of its buildings, fountains and sculptures. At the same time, Joseph  Olbrich’s 1901 Ernst-Ludwig House, the former studio house and spiritual centre of the artists’ colony, is now a museum that presents fine and decorative art from the members of the artists’ colony. The unique integrity of the building complex is today a first-class cultural attraction, and the lively. contemporary centre of the Darmstadt’s cultural landscape. 

Note: The original Artists’ Colony group, headed by Joseph Maria Olbrich, included painter, decorative artist, and architect Peter Behrens; decorator Hans Christiansen; decorator Patriz Huber; sculptor Ludwig Habich; visual artist Rudolf Bosselt; and decorative painter Paul Bürck. Between 1904 and 1907, the group was joined by ceramicist Jakob j Scharvogel, glass blower Josef Emil Schneckendorf, and book craftsman Friedrich W Kleukens. 

After Joseph Olbrich’s death in 1908, architect and designer Albin Müller led the group. Under Müller’s leadership, the group expanded with majolica craftsman Bernhard Hoetger, goldsmiths Ernst Riegel and Theodore Wende, and Emanuel Margold, a student of painter Hans Hoffman.

Mary Fraser Tytler-Watts

Mary Fraser Tytler-Watts, The Watts Mortuary Chapel, Compton, Surrey, England

Born in November of 1849 in India, Mary Seton Fraser Tytler was a Symbolist craftswoman, designer, and social reformer. She spent her early years in Scotland, being raised by her grandparents, before moving to England in the 1860s. In 1870 Tytler studied at the South Kensington School of Art, and later studied sculpture at the Slade School of Art in 1872 and 1873. Initially a portrait painter, she associated with the Freshwater art community on the Isle of Wight, becoming friends with Julia Margaret Cameron, a British photographer known for her soft-focus portraits of Victorian men.

Mary Tytler met painter George Frederic Watts, who was thirty-three years her senior, and married him in November of 1886 in Epsom, Surrey. After her marriage, Mary Watts worked in the fields of Celtic and Art Nouveau, producing pottery, bas-reliefs, metalwork, and textiles. Watts exhibited her work in The Woman’s Building at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago, Illinois. Through the Home Arts and Industries Association, she created employment in the rural communities; she also trained workers in clay modeling, which led to the establishment of the Compton Potters’ Guild in 1899.

Mary Watts designed, built, and maintained the Watts Mortuary Chapel in Compton from 1895 to 1904. It is a chapel in an Art Nouveau version of the Celtic Revival style. The main structure is inspired by the 11th and 12th-century Romanesque architecture; but the terracotta relief carving and painting is Celtic Revival. Virtually every village resident was involved in the chapel’s construction, with local villagers, under Watt’s guidance decorating the interior with a fusion of art nouveau and Celtic influences. George Watts, Mary’s husband, paid for the entire project and painted the allegorical “The All-Prevading” for the altar just three months before he died in July of 1904. 

Mary Watts strongly supported the revival of the Celtic style, the indigenous artistic expression of Scotland and Ireland. In 1899, she began designing rugs in this style for the carpet company Alexander Morton & Company, which was Liberty & Company’s, the luxury department store, main producer of fabrics. Watts pioneered the department store’s Celtic style with designs for the Celtic Revival textiles, carpets, book-bindings, and metal work.

Mary Watts was President of the Godalming and District National Union of Women’s Suffrage Society and convened at least one women’s suffrage meeting in Compton, Surrey. A firm believer that everyone should have a craft with which they could express themselves, Mary Watts died at Limnerslease, her home in Compton, on the sixth of September in 1938. Her remains are buried in the Watts Mortuary Chapel.

Note: The Watts Mortuary Chapel at Compton, Surrey, is managed by the nearby Watts Gallery, dedicated to the paintings and sculptures of George Frederic Watts. The chapel is open Monday to Friday (8AM to 5PM) and Saturday to Sunday (10AM to 5:30PM). There is no entrance charge.

L’Horloge du Musée

Photographer Unknown, Gold-Framed Interior Clock, Atrium of the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France

On the eve of the 1900 World Fair, the French government ceded land to the Orleans railroad company, who, disadvantaged by the remote location of the Gare d’Austerlitz, planned to build a more central terminus station on the site of the ruined Palais d’Orsay. In 1897, the company consulted three architects: Lucien Magne, Emile Bénard and Victor Laloux. The project was a challenging one due to the vicinity of the Louvre and the Palais de la Légion d’honneur: the new station needed to be perfectly integrated into its elegant surroundings. Victor Laloux, who had just completed the Hôtel de Ville in Tours, was chosen as winner of the competition in 1898.

The station and hotel, built within two years, were inaugurated for the World Fair on July 14th, 1900. Laloux chose to mask the modern metallic structures with the façade of the hotel, which, built in the academic style using finely cut stone from the regions of Charente and Poitou, successfully blended in with its noble neighbours. Inside, all the modern techniques were used: ramps and lifts for luggage, elevators for passengers, sixteen underground railtracks, reception services on the ground floor, and electric traction. The open porch and lobby continued into the great hall which was 32 metres high, 40 metres wide and 138 metres long.

From 1900 to 1939, the Gare d’Orsay was the head of the southwestern French railroad network. The hotel received numerous travellers in addition to welcoming associations and political parties for their banquets and meetings. However, after 1939, the station was to serve only the suburbs, as its platforms had become too short for the modern, longer trains that appeared with the progressive electrification of the railroads.

The Gare d’Orsay then successively served different purposes : it was used as a mailing centre for sending packages to prisoners of war during the Second World War, then those same prisoners were welcomed there on their returning home after the Liberation. It was then used as a set for several films, such as Kafka’s “The Trial” adapted by Orson Welles, and as a haven for the Renaud-Barrault Theatre Company and for auctioneers, while the Hôtel Drouot was being rebuilt.

The hotel closed its doors on January 1st, 1973, not without having played a historic role: the General de Gaulle held the press conference announcing his return to power in its ballroom (the Salle des Fêtes).

In 1975, the Direction des Musées de France already considered installing a new museum in the train station, in which all of the arts from the second half of the 19th century would be represented. The station, threatened with destruction and replacement by a large modern hotel complex, benefitted instead from the revival of interest in nineteenth-century architecture and was listed on the Supplementary Inventory of Historical Monuments on March 8, 1973. The official decision to build the Musée d’Orsay was taken during the interministerial council of October 20, 1977, on President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing’s initiative. The building was classified a Historical Monument in 1978 and a civil commission was created to oversee the construction and organisation of the museum. The President of the Republic, François Mitterrand, inaugurated the new museum on December 1st, 1986, and it opened to the public on December 9th.

Jacopo Sansovno

Jacopo Sansovno, “Mars”, Doges Palace, Venice, Italy

In 1485, the Great Council in Venice decided that a ceremonial staircase should be built within the courtyard of the Doges Palace. The design envisaged a straight axis with the rounded Foscari Arch, with alternate bands of Istrian stone and red Verona marble, linking the staircase to the Porta della Carta, and thus producing one single monumental approach from the Piazza into the heart of the building. Since 1567, the Giants’ Staircase is guarded by Jacopo Sansovno’s two colossal statues of “Mars” and “Neptune”,  which represents Venice’s power by land and by sea, and therefore the reason for its name.


A Year: Day to Day Men: 30th of June, Solar Year 2018

Beauty in a Form

June 30, 1908 is the date of the Tunguska Event in Siberia.

The Tunguska event was a large explosion that occurred near the Stony Tunguska River In Krasnoyarsk Krai, Russia on the morning of June 30, 1908. This event is the largest impact event on Earth in recorded history. The explosion over the Easter Siberian tiaga, a very large ecoregion of forests and wildlife, flattened 770 square miles of forest, yet caused no known human casualties.

The explosion is generally attributed to the air burst of a meteoroid, It is classified as an impact event, though no impact crater has been found. The object is thought to have disintegrated at an altitude of 3 to 6 miles rather than to have hit the Earth’s surface. Studies have yielded estimates of the meteoroid’s size from 200 to 600 feet. Estimates of the energy of the downward airburst range from three to five megatons of TNT (three to five million tons). The explosion knocked down some 80 million trees over the affected area.

Natives and Russian settlers in the hills north-west of Lake Baikal observed a column of bluish light, nearly as bright as the sun, moving across the sky. About ten minutes later, there was a flash and a sound similar to artillery fire. Eyewitnesses closer to the explosion site reported the sound moved from the east to the north. The sounds were accompanied by a shock wave that knocked people off their feet and broke windows hundreds of miles away.

The explosion registered at seismic stations across Euroasia; in some places, the shock wave registered equivalent to an earthquake of 5.0 magnitude. Fluctuations in atmospheric pressure were detected in Great Britain. Over the next few days, night skies in Asia and Europe glowed. The theory for this was light passing through high-altitude ice particles that had formed at extremely low temperatures. Suspended dust particles caused a month-long decrease in atmospheric transparency, according to observers at the Mount Wilson Observatory in Los Angeles County, California.

It is believed that the passage of the asteroid through the atmosphere caused pressures and temperatures to build up to a point where the asteroid abruptly disintegrated in a huge explosion. The destruction would have to have been so complete that no remnants of substantial size survived, and the material scattered into the upper atmosphere during the explosion would have caused the glowing skies.


A Year: Day to Day Men: 29th of May, Solar Year 2018

Friend to Man

May 29, 1453 marks the end of the Byzantine Empire with the fall of the city of Constantinople.

The Byzantine empire was the continuation of the Roman Empire in the East lasting into the Middle Ages. The capital of this empire was Constantinople, the site of ancient Byzantium. It survived the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century AD and continued to exist for an additional thousand years. During most of its existence, the empire was the most powerful economic, cultural, and military force in Europe.

The borders of the empire evolved significantly over its existence, as it went through several cycles of decline and recovery. During the reign of Emperor Maurice from 582-602 AD, the Empire’s eastern frontier was expanded and the north stabilized. However, his assassination caused the six year Byzantine-Sasanian War, which exhausted the empire’s resources and contributed to major territorial losses during the seventh century. In a matter of years the empire lost its richest provinces, Egypt and Syria, to the Arabs.

The empire recovered again during the reigns of the Komnenian family, such that by the 12th century Constantinople was the largest and wealthiest European city. However, it was delivered a mortal blow during the Fourth Christian Crusade, when Constantinople was sacked in 1204 and the territories that the empire formerly governed were divided into competing Byzantine Greek and Latin realms. Despite the eventual recovery of Constantinople in 1261, the Byzantine Empire remained only one of several small rival states in the area for the final two centuries of its existence during which its remaining territories were progressively annexed by the Ottomans.

The capture of the capital of the Byzantine Empire by the invading Ottoman army occurred on May 29, 1453. The attackers were commanded by the then 21-year-old Sultan Mehmed II, who defeated an army commanded by Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos  and took control of the imperial capital, ending the seige of the city. After conquering the city, Sultan Mehmed transferred the capital of his Empire from Edime to Constantinople, and established his court there. The Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque, the Greek Orthodox Church was allowed to remain intact, and Gennadius Scholarius was appointed the Patriarch of Constantinople.

The fall of Constantinople was a watershed moment in military history. The  substantial fortifications of ramparts and city walls of the city had been a model followed by other cities throughout the Mediterranean region and Europe. The Ottomans ultimately prevailed due to the use of gunpowder which fueled their cannons.

Seiganto-ji & Nachi Falls in Wakayama, Japan

Photographer Unknown, Seiganto-ji & Nachi Falls in Wakayama, Japan

The Seiganto-ji Temple is the oldest structure in Wakayama. It is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site as part of “Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range.” Though the year of is establishment is not recorded, there are signs that nature worship has been carried out since ancient times in the area and a legend that the temple was founded during the 4th century.

From the middle period to the early modern period, the temple along with the adjacent Kumano Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine flourished as Shugenjo, a place for ascetic training.

The main highlight is a three-story red pagoda reconstructed in 1972. Its main hall, built in 1590, is designated as Important Cultural Property of Japan and exhibits a waniguchi drum, the largest Buddhist altar drum of its kind in Japan. The enshrined principal image, Nyoirin Kannon, Bodhisattva of Compassion, is said to grant any wish, including wishes for wealth, wisdom, and power.The public may view Nyoirin Kannon only on one day once a year, on August 17th.

This 3-meter high wooden image that was carved by Shobutsu Shonin during the reign of Empress Suiko which was from 592 – 628 AD. Inside the chest cavity, there is a small golden image of Kannon said to be just “1 sun 9 bu”, about six centimeters tall. This tiny golden Kannon was said to be the personal image that Ragyō the hermit enshrined in his hermitage in the 4th century. However, it is more likely to have been the personal image belonging to Empress Suiko.


A Year: Day to Day Men: 7th of May, Solar Year 2018

So, One Sunny Day…

On May 7, 558, the great dome of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople completely collapsed.

Hagia Sophia is a cathedral located in Istanbul, Turkey. It is one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture. The original cathedral was finished in 360 A.D., but due to a future of riots, rebellions, and the fall of empires, the structure was rebuilt multiple times, each version more grand than the last. Due to this rich history, the cathedral has crowned the bodies of both the Christian and the Muslim world.

The size and measurements of the Hagia Sophia are much larger than other religious buildings of its time. This structure is world renown for the colossal dome that sits over its central space. The dome is 56 meters from ground level, 32 meters from North to South and 31 meters from East to West. It was the largest pendentive dome in the world until the completion of Saint Peter’s Basilica in 1626, and has a much lower height than any other dome of such a great diameter.

Earthquakes in August 553 and December 557 caused cracks in the main dome and eastern half-dome. The main dome collapsed completely during a subsequent earthquake on May 7th in the year 558, destroying the altar steps, the altar, and the structural canopy over the altar. The collapse was due mainly to the unfeasibly high bearing load and to the enormous sheer load of the dome, which was too flat. These caused the deformation of the piers which sustained the dome.

Emperor Justian I ordered an immediate restoration. He entrusted it to Isidorus the Younger, nephew of Isidore of Miletus, who rebuilt with lighter materials than previously used and elevated the dome by another thirty feet– giving the building its current interior height. Moreover, Isidorus shaped the new cupola like a scalloped shell or the inside of an umbrella, with ribs that extend from the top down to the base. These ribs allow the weight of the dome to flow between the windows, down the pendentives, and ultimately to the foundation.

Hagia Sophia is famous for the light that reflects everywhere in the interior of the nave, giving the dome the appearance of hovering above. This effect was achieved by the insertion of forty windows around the base of the original structure. The insertion of the windows in the dome structure, beside letting more light enter, lessened its weight upon the underlying structure. This reconstruction of the Hagia Sophia dome, giving the church its present 6th-century form, was completed in 562. The rededication of the basilica presided over by Patriarch Eutychius occurred on December 23, 562.

Gwrych Castle

Gwrych Castle near Abergele in North Wales

Local history claims that the first castle at Gwrych was built by the Normans in the 12th century. It was seized by the Welsh prince Rhys ap Gruffydd of Deheubarth in about 1170 who then rebuilt the timber castle in stone. This castle was later destroyed by Cromwell’s army following the English Civil War of the mid-17th century.

The later castle at Gwrych was begun in 1819. The castle is a Grade 1 listed building set in a wooded hillside over looking the Irish Sea. It was the first Gothic folly to be built in Europe by a wealthy industrialist Lloyd Hesketh. Bamford Hesketh, his son, inherited the title of Gwrych in his early 20s and used his vast fortune to build the 4,000-acre Gwrych Castle Estate.

The castle once had a total of 128 rooms including the outbuildings: twenty-eight bedrooms, an outer hall, an inner hall, two smoke rooms, a dining room, a drawing room, a billiards room, an oak study, and a range of accommodations for servants. There are nineteen embattled towers and the whole facade is over 2000 yards. Many feel the castle’s outstanding feature was the castle’s 52-step marble staircase.

Doune Castle

Doune Castle, Stirling, Scotland

Doune Castle is a medieval stronghold near the village of Doune, in the Stirling district of central Scotland. The castle is sited on a wooded bend where the Ardoch Burn flows into the River Teith. It lies 8 miles (13 km) north-west of Stirling, where the Teith flows into the River Forth. Upstream, 8 miles (13 km) further north-west, the town of Callander lies at the edge of the Trossachs, on the fringe of the Scottish Highlands.

Recent research has shown that Doune Castle was originally built in the thirteenth century, then probably damaged in the Scotties Wars of Independence before being rebuilt in its present form in the late 14th century by Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany (c.1340–1420), the son of King Robert II of Scotland, and Regent of Scotland from 1388 until his death. Duke Robert’s stronghold has survived relatively unchanged and complete, and the whole castle was traditionally thought of as the result of a single period of construction at this time. The castle passed to the crown in 1425, when Albany’s son was executed, and was used as a royal hunting lodge and dower house

For the television series ‘Game of Thrones’, a variety of locations were used to create Winterfell as it appears on screen. For the pilot episode, Doune Castle in Scotland  was used for some exterior shots and the great feast held when King Robert Baratheon and his party arrive.

Naqsh-e Rustam

Photographer Unknown, Naqsh-e Rustam

Naqsh-e Rustam  is an ancient necropolis located about 12 km northwest of Persepolis, in Fars Province, Iran. It lies a few hundred meters from Naqsh-e Rajab.

The oldest relief at Naqsh-i Rustam is severely damaged and dates to c. 1000 BC. It depicts a faint image of a man with unusual head-gear and is thought to be Elamite in origin. The depiction is part of a larger mural, most of which was removed at the command of Bahram II. The man with the unusual cap gives the site its name, Naqsh-e Rostam, “Picture of Rostam”, because the relief was locally believed to be a depiction of the mythical hero Rostam.

City Hall Subway Station

Abandoned City Hall Subway Station, New York City

If you ride the Number 6 train to the end of the line and get off at the Brooklyn Bridge stop, you’re missing out on something incredible. As the train loops around to go back uptown, it passes through the abandoned and beautifully preserved City Hall Station from 1904.

The station, with a maximum use by only 600 people a day, was closed by the City of New York Because the loop created an unsafe gap at the platform. In 1995 the city vowed to restore the site and turn it into a part of the transit museum, but those plans were scrapped years later.

The station is still not open to the public, but there’s a trick you can use to see it for yourself. Until recently the MTA would force passengers to get off before the train made the loop, but now passengers are allowed to stay on. So the next time you reach the end of the line, stay on the train as it rolls through the City Hall Station.

The Rouen Cathedral

The Rouen Cathedral, Rouen, Normandy, France

The Rouen Cathedral, the tallest building in France until 1880, contains a tomb of Richard the Lionheart which contained his heart. His bowels were probably buried within the church of the Château of Châlus-Chabrol in the Limousin. It was from the walls of the Château of Châlus-Chabrol that the crossbow bolt was fired, which led to his death once the wound became septic. His corporeal remains were buried next to his father at Fontevraud Abbey near Chinon and Saumur, France. Richard’s effigy is on top of the tomb, and his name is inscribed in Latin on the side.

The Cathedral also contains the tomb of Rollo (Hrólfr, Rou(f) or Robert), one of Richard’s ancestors, the founder and first ruler of the Viking principality in what soon became known as Normandy.

The cathedral contained the black marble tomb of John Plantagenet or John of Lancaster, Duke of Bedford, one of the English commanders who oversaw Joan of Arc’s trial. He became a canon priest of the cathedral after her death. His original tomb was destroyed by the Calvinists in the 16th century but there remains a commemorative plaque .

Cacaxtia’s Venus Temple

Detail of Battle Mural in Cacaxtia’s Venus Temple

Cacaxtla is the name of a Late Classic to Epiclassic (AD 600-900) city in the Puebla Valley, Tlaxcala, Mexico. It was a sprawling palace containing vibrantly colored murals painted in unmistakable Maya style. The nearby site of Xochitecatl was a more public ceremonial complex associated with Cacaxtla. Cacaxtla and Xochitecatl prospered 650-900 CE, probably controlling important trade routes through the region with an enclave population of no more than 10,000  Olmeca-Xicalanca people.

The most famous of Cacaxtla’s preserved paintings is the “Battle Mural”, or Mural de la Batalla, located in the northern plaza of the basamento. Dating from prior to 700, it is placed on the sloping limestone wall of a temple base and is split in two by a central staircase. It depicts two groups of warriors locked in battle: on the one side are jaguar warriors, armed with spears, obsidian knives, and round shields, who are locked in battle with an army of bird warriors (some of whom are shown naked and in various stages of dismemberment).