Italian noblewomen presented soft, absorbent, linen towels with indigo woven borders to birthing mothers during the 14th century and later. The cultural context of the towels is illustrated in Italian paintings of the period depicting childbirth customs such as presentation and use of the towels. For example, this fresco by Paolo di Giovanni Fei, Birth of the Virgin Mary (1380)... Read More »
What is the language of conquest? What language do people speak when they battle for land and autonomy, or meet to negotiate? During the conquest of Mexico, Spanish and Nahuatl—the mother tongues of the conquistadors and the Mexica—grew newly powerful. Maya, Otomí and hundreds of other languages were spoken in Mesoamerica in the early 16th century. Yet Hernán Cortés understood only Spanish.... Read More »
In South America in the centuries before 1500, the Peruvian coast and Andean highlands were home to a series of cultures that cultivated cotton as well as food crops. Of these, the largest empire was created by the Incas, who began as a small militaristic group and conquered surrounding groups. The Incas established a far-flung empire that stretched along the Andes, keeping this together... Read More »
Japanese cultural history is rather unique because it includes writings by women from the Heian Era (794-1185 CE) among its earliest works of important literature. During this era, Japan saw the creative assimilation of Chinese influences and the flowering of a distinctly native literature and culture. This native literature, to which women made the major contribution, became Japan’s classical... Read More »
What links the many scenes we have of the King and his family is the modern sensibility on display in all of them. Of course, since dates are uncertain, we must assume that several images hail from the nineteenth century. Yet all confirm the sentimentality that the twentieth century so embraces. Interestingly, this may have been quite accurate, even though this sentimentality had not been as... Read More »
Not shown in this or other scenes here is the fact that between the King’s two visits he ate a last meal. At this time he was denied, as was custom, a knife to avoid suicide. Louis was angered that his jailers thought he was so sinful as to take his own life.
Here Louis XVI is portrayed as a benevolent king distributing alms to the poor, an appropriate action for the "Father of his people." However, his rich fur–clad outfit contrasts with the abject poverty of the common people, suggesting to those inclined to be critical that the King did not understand the true state of popular misery during some of the 1780s, preceding the French Revolution.... Read More »