What makes Picasso’s Guernica a masterpiece and Modern Art’s most powerful anti-war statement of the 20th Century?
According to the popular story (backed up by family letters), the fourteen-year-old Mozart was visiting Rome, when he first heard the piece during the Wednesday service. Later that day, he wrote it down entirely from memory, returning to the Chapel that Friday to make minor corrections. Some time during his travels, he met the British historian Dr Charles Burney, who obtained the piece from him and took it to London, where it was published in 1771. Once the piece was published, the ban was lifted; Mozart was summoned to Rome by the Pope, only instead of excommunicating the boy, the Pope showered praises on him for his feat of musical genius. (Wikipedia)
Pauline Maier opens her history of the making of the Declaration of Independence, the most sacred of these documents, with this vivid description of the rotunda of the National Archives. In Maier’s eyes the shrine where the documents are displayed resembles nothing so much as the awesome, gilded, pre-Vatican II altars of her Catholic girlhood, raised three steps above where the worshippers assembled. The whole shrine seems to belong in a Baroque church somewhere in Rome. On the altar’s surface are spread out the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but at the center of the shrine, held above the altar in what looks like a tabernacle or monstrance, is the most holy document of all—the Declaration of Independence. Every day hundreds of believers file by the altar looking up reverentially at this document, “as if it were handed down by God or were the work of superhuman men whose talents far exceeded those of any who followed them.”
In her research she uncovered at least ninety different declarations of Independence that Americans in the colonies (later states) and localities adopted between April and July of 1776, most of which have been forgotten under the influence of our national obsession with the Continental Congress’s Declaration of Independence.
In persuasive detail Maier demonstrates that these many addresses and declarations had numerous precedents in English history, the most important being, of course, the English Declaration of Rights of 1688-1689. The seventeenth-century English Declaration had a particular significance for Americans in 1776 because it not only formally ended the reign of James II but justified that outcome by making a series of accusations against the King. Many Americans, including Jefferson in his preamble for the Virginia constitution, used the English Declaration as a model and sought to bring the same kinds of charges against George III as had been brought against James II.
When Robert E. Lee looked out over the land at Gettysburg, 150 years ago this week, what could he see?
Not much, says Middlebury professor of geography Anne Kelly Knowles. That is her conclusion based on a nearly decade-long project to visualize the Battle of Gettysburg using advanced digital mapping techniques, available for your exploration at Smithsonian.com.