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Sunday, March 25, 2018

Tokyo, seen from the Tokyo Tower

Tokyo is officially known as a "metropolitan prefecture", which differs from and combines elements of a city and a prefecture, a characteristic unique to Tokyo.  The Greater Tokyo Area is the most populous metropolitan area in the world.
The Metropolitan area of Tokyo is a cultural hub bursting with historical traditions versus the relatively new cities’ buildings and huge shopping obsession.
With over 13,000,000 people  Tokyo is known as one of mega cities in the world. Many people commute from neighbor cities to Tokyo. During the daytime, the population swells by over 2.5 million as workers and students commute from adjacent areas. 
In Tokyo, there are 49 buildings and structures that stand taller than 180 metres. Skyscrapers are a relatively recent phenomenon in Japan. Due to Tokyo's location on the Pacific and Eurasian tectonic plates, it is prone to earthquakes. This caused many of the buildings to be lower in height than those of major cities of its size.
However, this fact has not deterred Tokyo from building skyscrapers, and the modern-day city boasts more high-rise buildings than just about any other city in Asia - possibly even the world. Engineering is a key feature of Tokyo's skyscrapers, taking precedence over height and beauty.
Tokyo Tower is a communications and observation tower in the Shiba-koen district of Minato, Tokyo, Japan. At 332.9 metres, it is the second-tallest structure in Japan. The structure is an Eiffel Tower-inspired lattice tower that is painted white and international orange to comply with air safety regulations. Built in 1958, the tower's main sources of income are tourism and antenna leasing. Over 150 million people have visited the tower.
At the center of Tokyo, the Tokyo Imperial Palace is located as the primary residence of the Emperor of Japan. It is a large park-like area located in the Chiyoda ward of Tokyo and contains buildings including the main palace, the private residences of the Imperial Family, an archive, museums and administrative offices.
It is built on the site of the old Edo Castle. The total area including the gardens is 1.15 square kilometres. The modern palace is designed by Japanese architect Shōzō Uchii and was completed in 1993. The Palace complex  contains buildings including the main palace and other buidlings. The palace is surrounded by a water-filled moat and tree-covered grounds - a precious taste of nature within the bustling metropolitan city.
Source: Wikipedia

Sunday, March 18, 2018

An Interview with Leonardo

Photo: Wikimedia
I sat with Leonardo in a sunny afternoon in a café in Milan, at the Piazza Mercanti (Market Square). The square dates back to the 12th and 13th centuries and was the commercial centre of the city. Various traders, such as bakers, cobblers, and tailors conducted their business here.

Leonardo, as usual was in his dandy style and his perfumed air, wearing a rose-pink tunic.
He seemed at ease with himself, sipping his cappuccino. 
I asked him:
“ The first thing people want to know is about the Mona Lisa painting. People are not sure who she actually is, who is she?”

“She is Lisa, a Florence born woman whom married in her teens to a cloth and silk merchant who later became a local official, she was a mother to five children and led a comfortable ordinary middle-class life. You can see her clothing is rather simple and ordinary and her gown,  the scarf around her neck does not indicates her aristocratic standing.”
I said:
“Mona Lisa is very famous for her smile. But there are people who see her faint smile as a sad smile.”
“I painted it by using the “sfumato” technique which translated means ‘without lines or borders, in the manner of smoke’.  In this technique I did not use an outline,  but used different tones and shades of paint to create an illusion of  light and shadow. Starting with dark undertones I built the illusion of three-dimensional features through layers and layers of thin semi-transparent glazes. You used darker shades to highlight features and borders of the subject.”
I said:

“Probably because of this sfumato technique both the eyes and the mouth were prominent features. When the viewer looks at the eyes, the mouth falls under the viewer’s peripheral vision and therefore the features of the mouth are not clear, this along with a little shading at the cheek bones make the mouth look like a smile. But once the viewer focuses on the mouth, the smile disappears, as it was not meant to be a smile.”
“That is probably why some people see her smile as a sad smile.”
I said:
“ Aside from paintings you are also well known for your ideas on engineering, anatomy, geometry, and other scientific observations of nature.
You once presented King Francois of France with one of your robotic lions.  It was an amazing feat of engineering, it moved its head, shook its tail and opened its jaws. When François was invited to tap the lion with his sword, its body opened to reveal a mass of lily flowers. Considering the technology available to you, the lion was nothing short of a miracle. “
Leonardo, talking a bit proudly:
“I also told Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, that I can share my secrets of my war machine inventions, I can construct bridges which are very light and strong and very portable with which to pursue and defeat an enemy... I can also make a kind of cannon, which is light and easy of transport, with which to hurl small stones like hail... I can noiselessly construct to any prescribed point subterranean passages — either straight or winding — passing if necessary under trenches or a river... I can make armored wagons carrying artillery, which can break through the most serried ranks of the enemy. In time of peace, I believe I can give you as complete satisfaction as anyone else in the construction of buildings, both public and private, and in conducting water from one place to another. I can execute sculpture in bronze, marble or clay. Also, in painting, I can do as much as anyone, whoever he may be.”

I said:
“Bravo, but you are also known as a slow painter and  notorious for leaving your work unfinished, like “the Virgin and Child with St Anne”, “St Jerome in the Wilderness”, “The Adoration of the Magi” and the Bronze Horse commissioned by Ludovico Sforza. Your reputation for not finishing things meant that you no longer received big commissions.”
“Details make perfection, and perfection is not a detail. For instance, experience shows us that the air must have darkness beyond it and yet it appears blue. If you produce a small quantity of smoke from dry wood and the rays of the sun fall on this smoke, and if you then place behind the smoke a piece of black velvet on which the sun does not shine, you will see that all the smoke which is between the eye and the black stuff will appear of a beautiful blue colour. And if instead of the velvet you place a white cloth smoke, that is too thick smoke, hinders, and too thin smoke does not produce, the perfection of this blue colour.”
I said:
“ It seems that you love nature very much. The Mona Lisa painting has a natural landscape background, there is a winding road and a bridge. The landscape seems wild and there is uninhabited space of rocks and water which stretches to the horizon, at the level of the Mona Lisa's eyes.” 

“Nothing originates in a spot where there is no sentient, vegetable and rational life; feathers grow upon birds and are changed every year; hairs grow upon animals and are changed every year, excepting some parts, like the hairs of the beard in lions, cats and their like. The grass grows in the fields, and the leaves on the trees, and every year they are, in great part, renewed. So that we might say that the earth has a spirit of growth; that its flesh is the soil, its bones the arrangement and connection of the rocks of which the mountains are composed, its cartilage the tufa, and its blood the springs of water. The pool of blood which lies round the heart is the ocean, and its breathing, and the increase and decrease of the blood in the pulses, is represented in the earth by the flow and ebb of the sea; and the heat of the spirit of the world is the fire which pervades the earth, and the seat of the vegetative soul is in the fires, which in many parts of the earth find vent in baths and mines of sulphur, and in volcanoes, as at Mount Aetna in Sicily, and in many other places."
I said:
“ You are also known to love animals very much, you even questioned the morality of eating animals when it was not necessary for health.  The mere idea of permitting the existence of unnecessary suffering, still more that of taking life, was abhorrent to you. Giorgio Vasari told us how when in Florence you passed places where birds were sold you would frequently take them from their cages with his own hand, and having paid the sellers the price you would let them fly away in the air, thus giving them back their liberty.”
Leonardo, his face glowing:

“Aside from that, I was also thinking  about how to make a flying machine learning from the movement and the configuration of the bird’s wings. What are the differences in air pressure above and beneath a bird’s wing, and how might this knowledge enable man to make a flying machine?
The flying machine must imitate no other than the bat, because the web is what by its union gives the armour, or strength to the wings. 
If you imitate the wings of feathered birds, you will find a much stronger structure, because they are permeable; that is, their feathers are separate and the air passes through them. But the bat is aided by the web that connects the whole and is not permeable.”
I said:
“The Last Supper was painted literally hundreds of times throughout art history, by different artists in different styles. Your Last Supper is seen more natural and dynamic than the rest. Judas is fully included in the group, rather than separated, and the figures are engaged in lively interaction.” 
“It is the moment after Jesus said ”One of you shall betray me…”. 
The painting shows the emotions of love, dismay, and anger, or rather sorrow, at the apostles  failure to grasp what Jesus means.
Bartholomew who was drinking and has left the glass in its position and turned his head towards Jesus. James, twisting the fingers of his hands together turns with stern brows to Andrew. 
And Andrew, with his hands spread open shows the palms, shrugs his shoulders up his ears making a mouth of astonishment.
Thomas thrusts himself  with finger extended as if to prod Jesus to explain himself more clearly.
Peter speaks into John's ear and as John listens to him, Peter holds a knife in one hand.
Judas is grasping a small bag of the 30 pieces of silver he has been paid to betray Jesus and has  knocked over the salt pot - another symbol of betrayal.
Philip is asking “Lord, is it I?”  Jesus replies, “He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me”.  We see Jesus and Judas simultaneously reaching toward a plate that lies between them, even as Judas defensively backs away.” 

I said:

“ Thanks Leonardo for the chat, I see you would be remembered in history as “The epitome of a Renaissance man”. 

This is an imaginery interview in memory of Leonardo da Vinci.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Milan, at Piazza del Duomo

Milan Duomo is the cathedral church of Milan, Italy. It is dedicated to Santa Maria Nascente (St Mary of the Nativity). It is the most impressive structure in Milan. Standing tall in Piazza del Duomo, it took more than 600 years to built. The front facade of the Duomo was completed only in the 19th century.

This cathedral is a genuine Gothic masterpiece with more than 3,500 statues of saints, animals and monsters, and 135 towers stretching towards the heavens.
The roofline dissolves into openwork pinnacles that are punctuated by a grove of spires, topped with statues that overlook the city. The main spire is 109 meters high. These can all be investigated up close on a breathtaking walk on the roof.
The most famous of the statues on the roof is the Madonnina (Little Madonna), a copper statue of the virgin Mary covered with 3900 pieces of gold leaf. It was cast in 1774 by goldsmith Giuseppe Bini and sculptor Giuseppe Perego. The statue, four meters and sixteen centimeters tall , was placed on top of the cathedral's tallest spire.
The Duomo's most imposing element, the front façade facing Piazza del Duomo, was completed in the 19th century. The façade is baroque up to the first order of windows, and neo-Gothic above. The five ornated bronze doorways provide a magnificent entrance to the Duomo.  Each of the five bronze doors was sculpted by a different artist. The central one is the oldest and was decorated with floral Gothic reliefs by Ludovico Pogliaghi. The panels on the doors depict episodes in the lives of the virgin Mary, Saint Ambrose (patron of Milan) and Saint Charles Borromeo, as well as scenes from the history of Milan and the construction of the cathedral.
The inside of Milan's Duomo is expansive and magnificent. There are five large naves divided by fifty-two pillars - one for each week of the year - that support the cross vaulted ceiling.
Above the apse (the arched part above the altar) there is a spot marked with a red lightbulb. This marks the spot where one of the nails of Jesus’ crucifixion was placed.
The American writer and journalist Mark Twain one time visited Milan and the Duomo, he was very impressed by the Duomo and describes it in his travel book “Innocents Abroad” as follows:
“What a wonder it is! 
So grand, so solemn, so vast!
And yet so delicate, so airy, so graceful!
A very world of solid weight, and yet it seems ...a delusion of frostwork that might vanish with a breath!... “

Sources: Wikipedia

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Milan, at the Last Supper

The monument of Leonardo da Vinci by sculptor Pietro Magni is located at the center of Piazza della Scala in Milan. The Piazza is connected  with Piazza Duomo by the shopping mall Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

Leonardo da Vinci worked and lived  in Milan in the 15th century at the Sforza Castle, under the Duke of Milan Ludovico Sforza.
His job was to take care of the cultural life and the arts at the court of Milan. During this period, Leonardo da Vinci was busy with inventions, the expansion of the canal system and the construction of locks as well as the study of man. During his time in Milan, he also created the famous mural painting "The Last Supper".
The Last Supper is contained in the church Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, which is displayed in the dining hall of the convent. It was painted on the northern wall of  the dining hall for the Dominican monks. It measures fifteen by twenty-nine feet. It stands whole as of today, except for the construction of a doorway in 17th century, eliminating the lower central area of the painting. Leonardo da Vinci set the long dining table at stage center in this room, with Jesus at the center surrounded by the 12 apostles.
It is said that the look of every apostle was based on a real-life model. When it came time to pick the face for the traitorous Judas (fifth from the left, holding a bag of telltale silver), da Vinci searched the jails of Milan for the perfect looking scoundrel.
During world war 2 the Allied bombers struck and heavily damaged the Church. The Dining hall was razed to the ground, a few of the walls survived, including that of the Last Supper, as it had been reinforced prior with sandbags. 
The Last Supper, which miraculously survived the Allied bombing, suffers from other problem which are due to Leonardo’s experimental technique, which deteriorated the painting faster than expected.
Careful treatment of the extremely delicate paint layer restored the painting hidden colours. The church and convent have been the object of continuous restoration  from the 1990s onwards, following a unified conservation strategy. 
The church Santa Maria delle Grazie was originally commissioned by the Dominican Order to Guiniforte Solari for their monastery. Solari designed a beautiful structure in a late Gothic style, which was completed in 1490.
Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, decided that the church Santa Maria delle Grazie would be a perfect burial place for him and his wife, and in preparation asked Donato Bramante to remodel the church. Bramante rebuilt the apse and crowned it with a magnificent sixteen-sided drum in Renaissance style. 
Both the interior and exterior of the church show an interesting combination of Gothic and Renaissance styles. The sober brick facade was designed by Guiniforte Solari while the Renaissance-style entrance is attributed to  Donato Bramante. 
The central nave and aisles are magnificent examples of late Gothic architecture. It features elegant pointed arches embellished with delicate frescoes. The Renaissance style is less decorated and seems almost sparse in contrast. Along the aisles are a number of chapels, many of which are beautifully decorated with frescoes.
The church and convent has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage sites list. 
Sources: Wikipedia